In last week’s Letter to the Editor, part one, I wrote concerning the importance of evaluating our representatives in parliament on a yearly basis and not waiting until election time. I also mentioned that SMCP is busy developing a parliamentarian report card that will indicate how well or how poorly our MPs are doing in the following six areas: attendance, participation, representation, supervision, legislation and interaction. Furthermore, I explained the reason for and nature of the report card and presented an extensive description of the first benchmark, namely attendance. In part two, I will expound on the following benchmarks: participation, representation and supervision.
Participation is one of the benchmarks that is very obvious. We can see and hear when an MP is taking part in meetings in the standing committees as well as in the central committee and the plenary sessions of parliament. An MP is expected to participate by questioning, commenting, offering suggestions and proposals, voicing his/her opinion, presenting and defending motions, critiquing presentations of colleague MPs and by voting and motivating his/her vote. The public expects an MP to make valuable and meaningful contributions in all of these meetings. Yet we all know MPs who speak but say nothing, who do not address the topic at hand but beat around the bush. We also know MPs who do not read or study the documentation, which becomes obvious in their superficial and unsubstantiated contributions.
Representation: our constitution in article 44 states that members of parliament are elected to represent the entire population of Sint Maarten. In other words, an MP does not only represent his/her voters, a particular social or economic group or even his/her party. For this reason, the constitution stipulates in article 61 that members of parliament are “not bound by a mandate or instructions” but are free to vote according to their conscience. A good example of this is, when Dr. Lloyd Richardson, a member of the UPP faction, remained in parliament and voted in favor of the NA/DP/USP 2016 budget. Sadly, just before the voting the rest of the UPP faction walked out of the meeting but Dr. Richardson had placed the people’s interest above party politics!
Representing the people also means defending the people’s cause and bringing their concerns to the floor of parliament and presenting these to government while demanding answers and solutions. For example, the people had and still have great concerns regarding the Pearl of China Project, the dump, the prison, GEBE, the new hospital etc., yet parliamentarians have not seen the need to bring these issues to the floor of parliament.
Another area related to representation is attending meetings abroad and not reporting back to the people. When it comes to representing the people, MPs, if they are not sick, should attend all meetings of parliament. Sadly, in the past, numerous meetings have had to be cancelled due to a lack of quorum. Parliamentarians who decide to stay away from meetings for political or unsubstantiated reasons are actually not doing the job that they are being paid to do. In addition, it should never be that a parliamentarian or a parliamentary faction blatantly refuses to represent the people, as the UPP faction did when it refused to represent the people at the IPKO meetings in the Netherlands last June. If something like this happened in the private sector that representative would be fired on the spot but in parliament and Sint Maarten this type of behavior is accepted and rewarded with yet another four years in parliament.
To supervise means to control, oversee, monitor, inspect, be responsible for and to have the oversight and direction of. Supervision is one of the key functions of parliament and of each parliamentarian, yet it is the one function that parliament pays the least attention to. How much oversight of government is being carried out by our parliamentarians? One of the reasons the oversight function is compromised is because parliamentarians, who belong to the coalition, consider the government “their government” and often a parliamentarian refers to a minister as “my minister”. Unfortunately, this mindset is a direct result of parliamentary democracy where our ministers are appointed by parliament. The best way to guarantee a true separation of powers is to have the people elect the ministers or at least the prime minister and then let him/her select the members of the cabinet. In this way, a parliamentarian would be more objective in the execution of his/her supervisory function.
The constitution gives parliament many instruments by which it can carry out its oversight functions. A parliamentarian can question a minister verbally as well as in written form. Parliament also has the right to give ministers instructions via motions. Furthermore, the right of interpellation and inquiry or the right to approve or amend the budget are very serious instruments at parliament’s disposal. Besides, through the annual reports of the High Councils of State, parliament obtains insight as to how government is functioning as well as advice about how to mitigate and correct situations in government. But what does parliament do with these reports? Absolutely nothing! Our Parliamentarians need to take the supervisory aspect of their function much more seriously!
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party