22 July 2010

Sint Maarten Constitution Adopted

Unanimously adopted after intense debate

Daily Herald
21 July 2010


PHILIPSBURG--The Constitution for Country St. Maarten was approved unanimously by the Island Council on Wednesday night, putting in place yet another vital part for St. Maarten's status of country within the Dutch Kingdom after some nine hours of debate.

Opposition Democratic Party (DP) Island Council members Sarah Wescot-Williams, Roy Marlin, Maria Buncamper-Molanus and Leroy de Weever voted for the constitution after an intense debate to have Transitional Article VII removed. DP members had indicated Tuesday that they were not ready to give the constitution their support unless the transitional article was removed or sufficient reason was given for its remaining in the constitution.

The article, later deleted from the constitution, dealt with not preventing public office holders from running in elections if they had been convicted and punished for a crime prior to passing of the constitution providing the conviction did not revoke the right to vote. The deletion came after Constitutional Affairs Commissioner William Marlin and Wescot-Williams met for talks during an adjournment Wednesday evening.

The debate primarily focused on the insertion of that article in the last draft of the constitution dated July 18 and the need for more public consultation. For the latter, Commissioner Marlin has promised that a public forum will be organised within two weeks to take the constitution to the people. The article was inserted into the constitution on the advice of constitutional and legal advisors to bring it in line with the European Union Treaty on Human Rights, Marlin told the council.

He told the council that there had been no "back room dealings" between the National Alliance (NA) and independent Councilman Louie Laveist, who has legal trouble dating back to 2008, to have the transitional article added to the constitution as the opposition had been implying. Marlin said when the debate started at 9:00am yesterday that whether the article was included in the constitution or not, it would not make a difference. He was willing to have it removed if that would allow smooth passage of the constitution in the council so the constitutional change process would not be stalled.

Non-approval of the constitution would have meant that St. Maarten was missing a vital document needed for the changes to the Kingdom Charter for the birthing of new countries-within-the-Dutch-Kingdom St. Maarten and Curaçao to take effect come 10-10-10 (10th October 2010). This would have left the island in limbo, as it would have been neither an island territory of the Netherlands Antilles nor a new country.

Laveist said in a fiery presentation that he didn't want the article in the constitution if it would mean that it would not have the two-thirds majority needed for adoption. The article, he insisted, had not been included in the constitution for his benefit and did not stem from any deal with NA.

Wescot-Williams pointed out that her party had no issue with the merits of Article VII, but with the method used to insert into the constitution as though it was an afterthought. She said that protection from punishment twice was already regulated in the constitution in Article 28. This protects everyone, including politicians, from "retroactive" punishment; thus there was no need for Article VII to be inserted, in her opinion.

The need to define who is a St. Maartener was also a prominent topic in the debate. Several council members said consultations needed to begin now on fully describe a St. Maartener.

Acting Lt. Governor Reynold Groeneveldt congratulated the people of St. Maarten, the Island Council and all advisors on achieving this milestone in history.

Voting for the constitution were Commissioners William Marlin, Frans Richardson and Hyacinth Richardson, "caretaker" Commissioner Theo Heyliger, Island Council members Sarah Wescot-Williams, Roy Marlin, Maria Buncamper-Molanus, Leroy de Weever, Louie Laveist, George Pantophlet and Rodolphe Samuel.

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