SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – Despite having independent legal advice demonstrating that the country’s draft 2022 budget is in contravention of Sint Maarten’s Constitution, a majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) on Monday night still passed the draft legislation.
Party for Progress (PFP) MPs Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson were among the four (4) MPs who voted against the draft legislation.
The legal advice - which was discussed by MPs during Monday’s public meeting of Parliament - was compiled and signed by former Secretary-General of Parliament Nancy Joubert, LL.M, on January 7, 2022. It concluded that:
“Even though there might be sufficient (legal) grounds to deviate from the budget standards of Article 15 of the Kingdom Law, establishing the draft National Ordinance Budget 2022 without the explicit prior approval/permission of the Kingdom Council of Ministers is not possible nor desirable.”
The advice also stated that “doing so would mean that Parliament and Government are acting in contravention with their own Constitution but also with the Kingdom Law.”
According to the legal advice, the potential consequences include the Kingdom Council of Ministers issuing an instruction to the Sint Maarten Government, the Ombudsman challenging the law’s constitutionality in the Constitutional Court, and the Governor refusing to ratify the draft legislation.
“I cannot understand how my colleagues could have this legal advice in hand, to have concrete evidence that this process is unconstitutional and still vote ‘yes’,” said a baffled MP Peterson on Monday night. “It is one of the lowest points in our recent history, when the defenders of the law are trampling on them instead. This sends a strong message to the country, that there are no limits to what they will do for their own agendas.”
“One of our colleagues even said that the Constitution doesn’t matter in this case. If this isn’t blatant disregard, I don’t know what is,” said MP Gumbs. “This is a dangerous precedent to set. If we put the proverbial knee on the Constitution now, we are making it okay for others to do the same in the future. This counts not only for us as an autonomous country, but also in the more distant future as an independent nation.”
Although MP Gumbs acknowledged that some MPs might feel frustrated with the current state of relations within the Kingdom, she believes that this is not justification to break the law. “We are in a situation that we do not like, with a democratic deficit, and nobody is denying this. But does this mean that we go against our own laws because we don't like how they are affecting us now?” questioned MP Gumbs.
The PFP faction also countered the argument that they are against civil servants, including teachers and justice workers, being paid because they voted against the draft budget and its various amendments.
“We voted against the budget because the process is unconstitutional,” reiterated MP Peterson. “Article 14 of the Kingdom Law CFT already stipulates that, in the event that the budget is not approved in time, the country can use last year’s budget as a basis for the financial administration until the approved budget is available. There was no fear that civil servants would not receive their salaries because the budget was not passed. To say otherwise is simply misinforming and emotionally manipulating the people of Sint Maarten.”
“If we voted for the budget after receiving explicit approval from the Kingdom Council of Ministers, then I would have thrown my support behind it,” added MP Gumbs. “I encouraged some of the broad ideas within some of the motions and amendments. But all we had to do was wait two weeks and then come back to pass the budget, like it is proscribed by law. This is not unreasonable and I can’t understand why the Government seemingly had no patience to even do the correct thing. I would like to remind the public that the 2020 budget was almost 5 months delayed, while the 2021 budget was 7 months delayed. These are longer delays than the 2022 budget.”
MPs Gumbs and Peterson noted the possibility that the Kingdom Council of Ministers may end up approving a different allowable deficit than what was in the now-passed 2022 budget. The budget in its current form has a deficit of more than 120 million guilders.
“If the Kingdom Council of Ministers eventually approve a deviation of, say 108 million guilders in deficit, then the Government would have to draft a new budget and we would start this whole process all over again,” said MP Peterson.
“We tried to caution our fellow MPs about the potential consequences of passing an unconstitutional budget. We shall see what will happen now. I sincerely hope that I am proved wrong and it does not end up being detrimental for the people of Sint Maarten,” concluded MP Gumbs.