Opinion: Discussion paper

POSTED: 02/13/14 12:06 PM

Anyone who had expected something from the Central Committee in its discussion about electoral reform went home disappointed yesterday. The suggestions Prime Minister Wescot-Williams put forth triggered mixed reactions at best. Maybe that is a sign of how thorny this issue is.

What we expect from all this is not much before the upcoming elections. Already we have heard voices to pull the elections forward instead of planning them in hurricane month September. If that becomes a reality and we have elections before the summer, time will be too short to bring about any meaningful changes.

The discussion paper itself also does not bear the hallmarks of a project in a hurry. These are not definite proposals; these are points for a debate – in Parliament and in the community. The central Committee made a lame job yesterday of setting its teeth in the subject and from the discussion paper it remains unclear.

“Following the outcome of the various discussions and with the blessing of parliament, government will draft the amendments for the respective national ordinances to be presented to parliament in accordance with the normal procedure. We strive to send the amendments in the first part of this year.”

In the cover letter with the discussion paper, the Prime Minister is also careful with her wording: “I request to give me the opportunity to elucidate on this discussion paper in Parliament and that thereby possibly the formal discussion about the reform of the electoral system in St. Maarten can start.”

Terms like “the first part of this year” and “that thereby possibly the formal discussion …. Can start” are overly vague and seemingly lack ambition.

What is the first part of the year? Formally, one could argue that June 30 still falls within this definition. If the amendments the government has in mind arrive by that date one could say – a promise made is a promise kept. But it is clear that nothing of substance will happen before the elections, even if they are held in September. The process of proper legislation simply takes too long for that.

What is even more remarkable is the reference to the formal discussion that, according to the cover letter “could possibly start” after the presentation to the Central Committee. Nobody seems to wonder who is supposed to take part in these formal discussions, let alone when and where they are supposed to take place, or what should be done with their outcome.

There are for sure a lot of good intentions around. The talk about electoral reform however has become more of a running gag than a subject that politicians are ready to tackle in a serious manner. That ought to tell the electorate something. So be aware.

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