On July 1st, Parliament went on a four-week recess and will resume on Monday, July 31st. In December/January upcoming, Parliament will also take a two-week recess. I hope that our MPs are aware of the fact that a parliamentary recess is not a holiday and that they can be called back to work during their recess.
The website of the Dutch Second Chamber or Parliament describes its recess as follows: “during the recess periods, the Second Chamber does not convene. Members of the Chamber can study various files and documents and prepare themselves for the next session of meetings. Often, they also use the recess period for working visits, field trips and meetings with their constituents throughout the country”. Note, that these are all activities that Dutch MPs are unable to do when parliament is in session because they are then too busy with meetings of Parliament, Central Committee meetings, Permanent and Ad Hoc Committee meetings. The Dutch Parliament has five recesses during a parliamentary year, which coincide, more or less, with the school vacations. Therefore, many Dutch MPs also take their holidays during the periods of parliamentary recess. However, should any business occur, on which Parliament would need to meet urgently, then parliamentarians know that they are required to break their recess and return to The Hague to attend to the people’s business.
In the days of the Netherlands Antilles, I can understand the Antillean Parliament taking over the Dutch parliamentary recess schedule because Antillean MPs at the time hailed from six different Island Territories, three of which were located some 565 miles from the seat of Parliament on Curaçao. However, I do not understand the reasoning why fifteen MPs, all living within a radius of a few miles from the House of Parliament, who every other week are given reading and study time and if necessary can interact on a daily basis with their constituents, still get a six-week recess every year. This is clearly a Dutch/Antillean tradition that our Parliament in Sint Maarten has adopted without taking our local context into consideration.
As far as vacation is concerned, the holidays of parliamentarians are regulated by the ordinance covering the vacation of the ministers and the minister plenipotentiary. As a result, a parliamentarian is entitled to six weeks of vacation per year, which apparently is equivalent to their six weeks of recess during the year. The Explanatory Memorandum accompanying the National Ordinance on the remuneration of persons holding political authority (AB 2010, GT no. 9) explains in Article 6 that Members of Parliament “have no holidays, as Parliament has recess periods”. In other words, recess is not a holiday. This would then mean that, separate from the recess periods, MPs would not be able to take holidays, neither would they be entitled to the 6% annual vacation allowance which is now being paid out to them.
During election campaigns, sitting parliamentarians and would-be parliamentarians are very visible as well as vocal in the media on all kinds of issues related to the people and to the community. Beautiful manifestos are disseminated and many promises are made. You also can find these parliamentarians, aggressively active in the community, trying to get the people to vote for them. But during the period between elections our parliamentarians seem to forget, maybe even ignore, the people who voted them into office.
In the Netherlands, during the parliamentary recess, members of the Second Chamber also use the time to reconnect with their constituents. As our parliamentarians on Sint Maarten are directly elected by the people, they should make time to remain in touch with the people as well: hear their concerns, be their voice, ensure that legislation is initiated or drafted that benefits the people and the community. In this context, I want to commend MP George Pantophlet who, during this parliamentary recess, has taken some time to speak out in the media on the issue of the short-term contract. There are many more issues in the community on which the people would like to hear the views of our parliamentarians. Do members of parliament have an opinion on the situation, taking place at NIPA, where the education of the students seems to be in jeopardy? What about the views of parliamentarians on the Pearl of China and the Chinese tunnel? What do our Parliamentarians think about the Asset Recovery Team and the latest agreement that our Prime Minister made with the Dutch concerning the Integrity Chamber whereby our Parliament has also been compromised as far as the date is concerned. In 2015, Parliament was very upset with the then Prime Minister, the Honorable Marcel Gumbs and the Minister of Justice, the Honorable Dennis Richardson, for signing an accord with the Dutch without first consulting with the parliament. Two years later “l’histoire se répète” but thus far we have heard nothing from our parliamentarians concerning this matter.
Since our parliamentarians are so busy during the rest of the year, it would be good if, during their parliamentary recess periods, they can be more visible, more vocal and more interactive with their constituents.
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party