Opinion: Motions

POSTED: 04/13/12 3:28 PM

The parliament has spoken but don’t break out the champagne yet. During the budget debate on March 22 parliament passed a couple of motions that have now been officially received by the government. The motions deal with plastic grocery bags, pawn shops, alternative energy and succession tax.

So what’s next? The government has several options: executing the motions, or ignoring them. So far there have been no indications that ignoring is part of the plan, but then, you never know. Let’s keep things simple and take a look at the motions concerning single use plastic grocery bags. It gives the government 120 days to draft an ordinance to ban the use of plastic grocery bags. Any high school kid could write such an ordinance in probably less than twenty minutes. But our government gets 120 days to come up with something.

If the government received the motion on, say, April 1 (as good a date as any), it will have to present a draft ordinance by July 29. That’s a weird deadline, because it falls on a Sunday. And we’re not at all certain what 120 days exactly means: are they working days (like Monday to Friday?) or just the days on the calendar – Saturdays and /Sundays included?

In that case, the 120 days will take us to September 14.

And we all know how draft ordinances are handled. They go to central committee meetings. Members of Parliament, like they’ve never seen a plastic grocery bag before, will ask for expert opinions. The ordinance will drag on and on, so thinking that by Christmas St. Maarten will be free of these grocery bags will most likely turn out to be a serious error of judgment.

And then there is this: after the legislation is written into law and the new rules have gone into effect, said rules will have to be enforced. St. Maarten does not have a good track record when it comes to enforcing the law.

Just yesterday morning we saw a heavy truck barrel down the Sucker Garden Road, right past the spot where school girl Silvia Lynch died in a horrific accident last year. The time? Five minutes past eight – a time when it is forbidden for such traffic to be on the road.

And then there is of course the government’s own prostitution policy: it is violated all day long in plain sight and nobody does a damn thing about it.

Another example of how the law is not being upheld is to be found in the field of building permits. Nobody talks anymore about the devastating Soab-report that established once and for all that rules exist but that they are hardly ever enforced. In real estate lingo: it is better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

And so everybody is basically doing what he feels like because consequences are few and far between. So why stick to the rules if nobody else does?

Let’s get back to the plastic grocery bag issue. It is in itself amazing that two different members of parliament submitted a motion about it – any of the MPs that used to sit in the former Island Council could have taken this initiative years ago – but nobody did.

So why now? And why such lame motions while Members of Parliament also have the option to write initiative-laws of their own? If MPs find this too complicated they ought to go back to school and learn a couple of things. Or they ought to use part of their generous salaries to hire experts who do know about writing proper legislation.

But no, they opted for the easy way out by shoving the work onto the plate of an understaffed civil service.

Another practical joke is the request to government to initiate a study into alternative energy within 90 days. The deadline for the start of this study falls somewhere between the end of May and the end of June, depending how you count the days. But when is this study supposed to be completed? Who has to do it? Is there money budgeted for it? What is the focus of this study? Oh, right, something has been said about using LED lights – as if this will lead St. Maarten into the Mecca of alternative energy use.

It is quickly forgotten – or overlooked – that human behavior plays a big part in energy consumption. That is something parliamentarians do not want to look at. They ignore the ridiculous energy consumption in the buildings where they hold their meetings. Airco systems are roaring to their hearts’ delight at the expense of the taxpayer.

To give a few indications: we recently measured a temperature of 17.5 degrees Celcius in the press room at the parliament building. This week in the upstairs courtroom at the courthouse the thermometer went down to an astonishing 15.5 degrees Celsius. That is nothing compared to the temperature in the meeting hall of parliament; we haven’t measured it yet but it would not surprise us if the temperature in that room would be somewhere around 14 degrees.

The average outdoor temperature is 28 degrees; you don’t need a study of any kind to conclude that these temperature levels are insane, unhealthy, and above all very costly. But who’s counting when the tax payer picks up the tab? Parliamentarians are certainly not among them. They have created their own comfort level and since it does not cost them anything. Hell will freeze over before somebody comes to his senses and realizes that there are big savings to be had here.

The impression that our parliament has suddenly turned green during the last budget debate is therefore a false one. The motions were passed for keeping up appearances, and it is highly questionable whether they will ever yield any practical result.

It is easy to make promises, or to tell the government to do this, that or the other and then criticize when results are not forthcoming. It is apparently much more difficult to lead by example, for instance by making responsible use of energy resources in government buildings.

Mark this date: March 22, 2012: the day country St. Maarten’s parliament passed these motions. Now start counting the days until there are practical results.

Our prediction: nothing will happen in 2012 and all bets for 2013 are off.

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