Lt. Governor Franklyn Richards may have set the agenda for the “new” Island Council that was sworn in Monday, July 2. In actual fact, there is not much “new” about the new Island Council, with nine out of the eleven former members returning to the legislature. This can be interpreted as a “vote of confidence” in the former Island Council and should therefore guarantee continuity. Such interpretation may however be flawed.
The fact that vast majority of the Island Council members were re-elected may not be so much a “vote of confidence” in their performance, given the evidently diminishing trust the people have in their government as well as in the Council itself, but more an expression of “we ain’t got much choice.”
Choice is the essence of democracy, and when the people are offered very few real alternatives, they tend to go for the familiar. It is then a “choice” between the devil you know and the devil you don’t know.
Be that as it may, Lt. Governor Richards surely set the tone for what must be the priorities of the new Island Council, and therefore, by deduction, those of the “new” Executive Council.
“The coming period of the Island Council will be a uniquely challenging one. Not only will it be expected of you to look after everyday matters of the island territory, but you will also have to attend to the extraordinary matter of St. Maarten becoming an autonomous country by December 15, 2008,” Richards stated at the swearing in ceremony of the new councilors.
The new legislative term can be considered, in his view, a “run up” to the new constitutional status of the so-called “country St, Martin”. The focus, therefore, should be one of financial probity and control, all within the context of “good governance” – a catch phrase that would cement the viability of a so-called “country status”.
“Therefore in our run-up to country status,” the Lt.-Governor told the new councilors, “we must engage in the task of debt- cleansing, financial control, meeting the financing standards needed to meet the country status, the supervision during the transition period, supervision in the new constitutional structure, monetary matters and the social economic development.”
And as if that were not enough, he added a long list of issues the new Island Council must address without further delay. These include the establishment of an ombudsman, as an agency that would ensure integrity among public office holders, the adoption of a a code of conduct for members of the Council, and the upgrading of the Rules of Order for the council and the Central Committee.
The youth, education, the environment, fighting crime, and “a clear and transparent relation between the Island Government and government-owned companies and foundations” are among the other concerns the Lt.-Governor believes the new Island Council should preoccupy itself with.
For her part, the leader of the “new” government, Commissioner Sarah Wescot-Williams, stressed that the governing program for the period 2007-2011 would be based on her party manifesto, the National Development Plan, the Social Economic Initiative (SEI), and the round of talks the DP Island Council members had had with the various sectors. When that governing program would be ready for approval by the new Island Council is still anybody’s guess.
On the issue of constitutional reform, she said, “If St. Maarten wants to become a country, the island needs the authority to act. The Island Council also needs to discuss the draft constitution of St. Maarten.”
The “if” is redundant, given the result of the 2000 referendum which gave the island government the mandate to pursue a new constitutional status of “an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.” However, it could be interpreted to mean that government may seek a fresh mandate soon given the anticipated difficulties of the on-going negotiations.
Opposition leader William Marlin has already sounded the alarm that the Dutch are not optimistic that the new target date of December 15, 2008 would be attainable.
However, for the “new” Island Council, the focus should be on putting their house in order financially, socially, culturally, infrastructurally, politically, and finally constitutional reform could be seen as the ‘icing on the cake.’ This is the true meaning of “good governance”. It is what the people have been yearning for, for a long time, and hopefully, this “new” Island Council will go about the people’s business in a transparent, forthright, and open manner.