Opinion: Wasting time (at the Central Committee Meeting)

POSTED: 01/29/13 12:58 PM

Yesterday’s Central Committee meeting was a classic example of a non-meeting. And no, we are not criticizing Minister Pantophlet – who actually provided a classic example of how to deal with questions in a most effective manner – and we’re not criticizing the UP-faction for wanting to call a meeting – an urgent meeting even.

Now many people will be forgiven if they have in the meantime forgotten that there ever was a census in 2011. We have at times wondered about the final results of this local head count, but that’s as far as it went. The data are interesting for decision makers (and of course for those who control then) but the average citizen is not going to lose a night sleep over this subject. It’s simply not sexy enough.

While the UP called an urgent meeting, it soon became apparent that all politicians seem to have forgotten that the statistics department published preliminary results of the census in October of last year. This newspaper published the findings on October 15. But there is still one thing missing: the magic number.

How many people are living in St. Maarten? That’s what everybody wants to know. By the time the figures will be published in (or around, let’s be careful here) August of this year, the information is at best two years and three to four months old. It’s almost time to start thinking about the organization of the 2021 census.

Minister Pantophlet was precise and to the point when it came to the census. No wonder: he worked for 26 years at the Central Bureau for Statistics, so he knows what he is talking about. And that is the point: Members of Parliament could have gotten their information simply by submitting written questions to the minister – and they would have received the answers in a heartbeat.

But no, the UP-faction saw the need for yet another Central Committee meeting. It yielded information worth twenty minutes of everybody’s time, but the meeting lasted two-and-a-half hours. With ten Members of Parliament present, plus a clerk, the minister and two of his support staff, and not counting the journalists in the press room, this exercise cost an astonishing 35 man hours – almost a complete working week. If we take it that MPs make around $60 per hour (based on a 40-hour working week), this Central Committee meeting cost the tax payer $2,100.

It’s not a shocking figure, but if the number of meetings at the end of the year stands at, say, between 40 and 60, it is easy to see that there is an awful lot of money going down the drain for no reason at all.

So we agree with MPs like Louie Laveist who wondered about the urgency of the meeting and finally about the usefulness of the meeting, that MPs ought to be more critical about the meetings they call.

If it is for getting their message across to the people they are serving and of whom they incorrectly think that they are tuning in massively to cling to every word that is being uttered in these meetings – don’t bother.

The parliament has a nifty facility called Live TV. It’s grand, we would not want to miss it, but it is also completely not popular. The screen comes with a counter that shows how many viewers there are at any given moment. Yesterday if never reached higher than the magical number 6.

All this to say that MPs have more effective ways to obtain their information at their disposal. They could read the papers (they would have learned about the preliminary results of the census on October 15 of last year) and they could pose written questions to the cabinet members and send a copy of those questions to the media. This way they get the exposure they are craving for without wasting anybody’s time.

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