Opinion: The spirit of giving

POSTED: 02/22/16 12:09 PM

Sometimes, initiatives that may have started with the best of intentions are raising eyebrows. Such is the case with the “giving back to the community” initiative of parliamentarian Leona Marlin-Romeo – and we’d like to place this in the context of 2016 – an election year.

We are all familiar with the vote buying scandal dating back to 2010 when a couple of police officers sold their vote for $300 a pop to the United People’s party. Buying and selling votes is not allowed, it is even punishable by law.

Let’s switch to the motion United St. Maarten party leader Frans Richardson submitted to parliament on April 18, 2013 when he was still an independent Member of Parliament. That motion called for campaign-reform and the motion mentioned eight points that should be addressed. Among them were a ban on giving or accepting gifts, a ban on discouraging people from voting, a ban on campaign material near polling stations, a ban on wearing campaign tee shirts upon entering polling stations, a ban on the use of cell phones and cameras in voting booths and an order to remove all campaign materials 48 hours prior to election day.

True, Richardson’s motion focused on the period around the elections but he shot himself in the foot in the same year when he established his own political party in December. “During the party launch, the MP will be giving away lots of goodies just in time for Christmas,” an advertisement for the launch read.

So here we have a politician who favored a ban on distributing gifts to voters and who violated his own intentions eight months later.

Richardson’s motion never went anywhere, so formally there is no ban on distributing gifts. Yet, one may wonder where supporting socially desirable projects begins and where it crosses the line into vote buying.

We once heard from an impeccable source that politicians actually should not give away anything. The example was of a politician, whose name does not matter for the sake of the argument, who was having a drink at the Cigar Lounge in Sucker Garden when a 13-year-old girl came in to buy some stuff. Immediately, the politician offered the young girl a soda.

That, our impeccable source said, is already going too far.

And now we have a Member of Parliament who is playing do-gooder with a giving back to the community initiative. This is about more than soda’s: it’s about sports equipment, school necessities and now, the latest example, support for Mother Knows Best, a locally produced movie.

Earlier this year we have seen how the leader of the United People’s party, Theo Heyliger, once again gave away hundreds of pencil cases to school children.

The argument we want to make is not about Marlin-Romeo or Heyliger. It is about the phenomenon of politicians showering gifts on the population – and by extension on their voters.

Since there are no guidelines – with the exception of course for straight vote buying –this seems a worthy subject for a political debate. It were nice if the parliament and by extension the political parties that are represented there – would take on this challenge and set the perimeters for giveaways.

After all, right now some people may think that politicians are only doing this to maintain their popularity and to enhance their chances of getting re-elected.

We have suggested before making simple rules that are both transparent and acceptable. Set a limit to the amount of money politicians are allowed to give away – as a percentage of their political income – at any time during their tenure and keep a public register of these donations that details not only the amounts given, but also the recipients and the reason they received the gift. Giveaways should be prohibited six months before and six months after the elections. Something to think about.

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