MONDAY, 05 NOVEMBER 2012
DAWN BEACH–President of St. Maarten’s Constitutional Court Judge Bob Wit is in favour of broadening the court’s jurisdiction in the Dutch Caribbean as an authority to give “binding decisions” the legitimacy of some political movement in related to the Constitution and the right of the people.
The need for the expansion of the court’s reach was raised during Friday’s High Council of State Symposium titled “Thoughts on Good Governance.” Wit was asked for his opinion on the “question and answer” segment that followed the presentation of keynote speaker Professor Jaime Saleh, former Governor of the Netherlands Antilles.
Referring to Curaçao as “that other island” as he did when he was a speaker at the symposium last year, Wit said the Constitutional Court of St. Maarten in its current set up could not render a decision on the political turmoil that engulfed Curaçao prior to its general elections in October. At one point, “that other island” had two parliaments with two presidents of parliament, one government clinging to power while a new cabinet was sworn in.
“No one would have expected things to have happened as they had in that other island,” Wit said.
What was lacking, he added, was “an institutional authority that could give a binding decision on the legality of what was happening.”
Wit proposed that discussion should start on possibility of broadening the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court. If such a discussion would take place between the politicians is not clear. Wit, in his usual candour, said it is “not that I am expecting it to happen, but you never know. … It would be good to know there is an institution that can deal with such matters.”
St. Maarten went into its current constitutional status with “the right mindset. Let’s see what happens on the other island,” he said.
Commenting on the uniqueness of the Constitutional Court in the Dutch Kingdom, Wit reminded symposium attendees who included many people who work hard on preparing and negotiating for St. Maarten to become a country within the Dutch Kingdom, a status achieved on October 10, 2010, that Dutch Government was against the formation of the court.
“Now here you had politicians in St. Maarten who want to give away a little bit of power to a constitutional court and the common court if need be to see if their legislation is in conformity with constitution,” the judge said, pointing that this concept could not be grasp by Dutch politicians.
“The politicians in Holland are still trying to grapple with this because they don’t want anyone to interfere with their legislative function.”
Echoing the words of the writer of the United States Constitution, James Madison, who said if his country was governed by angels, there would not need a Constitution; Wit said he was not saying the local government was made up of angels. “But, I think they would agree they are not angels. That would take it a little too high. Even if they were angels, we wouldn’t know what could come next,” thus the need for a strong constitution and the constitutional court.
While the Constitutional Court has not yet handling any case of possible breaches of the Constitution since its inception two years ago, it has had some impact on decision making processes of government and parliament because elected officials are aware of its broad constitutional review function, said Wit.