Opinion: Wit report confirmation: St. Maarten parliament is not functioning as it should

POSTED: 08/25/14 11:26 PM

The Wit-report confirms something everybody knows: St. Maarten’s Parliament is not functioning as it should. This does not mean that all parliamentarians are slackers, or that all parliamentarians are taking their jobs way too lightly. We know the exceptions, and the exceptions know that we know them. This is a matter of wie de schoen past trekke hem aan. If the shoe fits, wear it.

The authors of the report direct their criticism at different aspects. There is of course the bloated remuneration, the so-called business travel to Parlatino meetings and not attending those meetings, the misconception that the Parliament is the highest authority in the country and the lack of interest in actually learning about the tasks for which they are being paid.

We figure that the worst of all is that Members of Parliament are never – or hardly ever – called on their behavior by their colleagues or by, for instance, the Council of Ministers. This shows that the self-cleaning capacity of the Parliament is awfully close to zero. All criticism is explained with the dead ringer “playing politics” and mostly MPs take criticism personally, the way a three-year old whines when somebody robs it of its favorite toy.

We may be a young country but those fifteen parliamentarians are anything but young – and still there is an apparent need for many of them to grow up.

Let us take the example of Romain Laville, the almost former MP who is now telling anyone who wants to listen that it was not he who caused the collapse of two cabinets. Who does not remember the iconic picture Milton Pieters took during the eve of the calypso coup whereby Laville joined hands with his co-conspirators Patrick Illidge and Frans Richardson in the Festival Village? A broad grin on his face, like, we did it. But now Laville wants everybody to believe that all this had nothing to do with him. The nickname Slick Illy would fit him well.

Laville went to Dominica, his country of birth, to negotiate an agreement. The Wit report notes that he negotiated “completely unauthorized” on behalf of the country. Upon his return, he gave a press conference whereby the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication Ted Richardson sat next to him as his silent sidekick.

Scholarships, cheap cooking gas, and more empty promises was what Laville presented at this press conference. Later, when his departure from Parliament approached, he even took out a full-page color ad (of course not in a critical newspaper) to tout his horn about his achievements. The scholarships “never materialized” (Education Minister Patricia Lourens let us know) and the cheap cooking gas? That was not cheap at all and it never arrived either.

Venezuela is letting Dominica and other Caribbean island states have oil and gas below market price so that they are able to pacify their populations. What Laville never revealed is that, under the PetroCaribe agreement, countries accept a loan for the difference between what they pay and the market price, against a 1 percent interest rate. This way, Jamaica has already racked up a debt of 250 billion US dollars. Go figure – one day Venezuela might just show up in Kingston and demand the keys when Jamaica is suffocating under the interest burden.

That’s the kind of deals Laville was making in Dominica, playing the big shot that was going to make things happen. Nothing came of it because the Council of Ministers quietly killed this brilliant piece of statesmanship. That’s at least one good decision on the record of the current government.

The sad thing is of course that the Laville-example shows that there are parliamentarians who do not have a clue about their role. They are legislators – yes. But they are not the ones to make deals on behalf of the government. Their role is to control the government – and in this respect many MPs are sorely lacking to the detriment of the population.

Fortunately, the country is about to turn a page come next Friday. To what extent this will give the electorate a fresh batch of politicians is unclear right now, but it feels like a good moment to make a fresh start.

This new Parliament could for instance show the people they represent that they do not need 40 months to reach an agreement about their own rules of order. They could work out a code of conduct for MPs in, say, three months, and address integrity issues this way.

They could also decide that all MPs have to follow an introduction course to give them a better understanding of their tasks. We figure it would be a good idea to send many a parliamentarian to the Rotary-program Readers are Leaders – given the fact that MPs show over and over again that they are not reading – or unable to read – documentation they receive from one of the ministries for public debate.

If only MPs would show a willingness to learn, and a commitment to attend meetings. Then they would earn the respect of the electorate. Using the Parliament as a travel agency for visiting all those exciting Latin-American destinations they would never go to if they had to pay for it out of their own pockets, is just not the right thing to do.

The parliamentarians that are of good will have to play their part in this. They could for instance report about their trips abroad. All voters want to know is this: who went on these trips, who attended the meetings for which they made the trip, and what was their contribution to these meetings.

Another good thing would be to cut down the Parliament’s travel budget. What ever happened to video conferencing?

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