St. Maarten Prime minister reaffirms standpoint on civil servants in parliament

POSTED: 02/9/12 1:15 PM

President of Parliament drs Gracita Arrindell has no issue

St. Maarten / By Torana Granston & Donellis Browne – Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams leaves it to individual ministers to decide how, when and if the civil servants in their ministries can appear in parliament to provide information. Clarification was requested during Wednesday’s Council of Ministers press briefing because President of Parliament drs Gracita Arrindell was recently chided by Democratic Party faction leader Roy Marlin and National Alliance faction leader William Marlin for inviting the Department of Community Development, Family and Humanitarian Affairs – formerly Women’s Desk – to a hearing on the central registration system for child abuse.
“If parliament wishes to hear or invite civil servants that should be done, and I’m going to quote now exactly how it is stated in Dutch, because I think that’s where the gist is, door tussenkomst van, through the intervention nearly or via the auspices of the minister. Now that door tussenkomst van should be interpreted in terms of the minister actually giving approval. It has to be motivated, just like it is for the ministers being requested to be in parliament, and I guess that door tussenkomst van regulates that the minister should decide the best way that parliament can get the information that they are requesting,” Wescot-Williams said.
Later she added, “It is not so much about giving information or giving information to third parties. With specific reference to an appearance in parliament, parliament is about politicians –representatives of the people – the question begs whether in such a setting civil servants should be put in the position to basically answer what are or could be political questions without the minister having outlined a policy or a position or whatever have you. If providing information was the only issue, all parliament has to do – which they have all right to do – is send specific questions to the minister. When you are hearing someone it can easily go into the realm of “let me hear your opinion on a matter” and the question is, again, whether you would not to put a civil servant who is supposed to advise the minister to give his or her opinion, which could be different than the minister of ministry’s position.”
Arrindell herself does not see an issue with having civil servants answer questions posed by MPs.
“It takes a lot of effort to get the agenda and to get third parties to come to parliament and have their say so that at the end of the day when, we make a final decision, we are comfortable with the decision because we were well informed,” Arrindell said.
In a direct reference to the chiding she received Arrindell added, “The accusations that I am wiping things under the table are so offensive. We are building a new institution that was never here before but I am very focused regardless of the distractions that I sometimes get from my colleagues who distract the flow of these meetings.”
The prime minister also said Wednesday that she sees no problem with civil servants going to parliament to in one instance note questions or in another to answer them. After stressing the distinction between these two types of encounters Wescot-Williams stressed a belief that the latter should happen if there is a clear policy that has been established by the minister beforehand.
“If a request comes from parliament to discuss the integrated neighborhood development program the minister can determine that since we have a clear view, a clear policy I can ask my civil servants to go and provide that information with or without. It’s up to the determination of the minister how to comply with the request of parliament for information on any one topic,” Wescot-Williams said.
“Be proactive”
Arrindell also urged her colleagues on Monday to play a more proactive role in handling legislation.
“When different groups suggest that we look into a law, parliamentarians please look into the law! We convene these meetings to not only look at procedures for meetings but also to take draft laws, make them an initiative, bring them forward for debate and final decision making. That is what parliamentarians ought to do,” Arrindell said.

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