The role of your elected parliamentarian

Wycliffe Smith Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party

As a politician, campaigning for the elections on September 26th, I am constantly bombarded with questions such as, what can you do for me? Will you fix my papers? Can you make sure that I get a job? Will you increase the pension of my aged mother who is unable to survive on such a meager income?

I truly understand the plight of these persons and I wish I could tell them yes. But that would be only telling them lies, making empty promises and giving them false hope. Unfortunately, this is what the majority of parties and politicians are doing. Their campaign is based on promising people programs and projects, buildings and roads, permits and jobs. Our people are being promised the pie in the sky, whereas politicians know or, better said, should know that this is not the role of a parliamentarian or the function of parliament. I honestly wonder if our politicians have taken the time to study what they are supposed to be doing when they are elected to parliament.

Unfortunately, the kind of campaigning that is taking place in St. Maarten today is a residue of the pre-10-10-10 era where the people directly voted in eleven Island Council members of which seven were appointed to the Executive Council. At that time, the people were pretty sure that the persons whom they elected would end up in the executive branch of government.

Nowadays this is no more the case. It can actually happen that not one person elected by the people would decide to go into the executive branch of government and become a minister. We saw this quite recently, with the Gumbs Cabinet, that all of the ministers were non-politicians, starting with Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs himself.

In other words, politicians, who are aspiring parliamentarians, are making promises at the executive level instead of telling the people what they plan to do at the parliamentary or legislative level.

What should the people expect from their elected parliamentarians? According to our constitution, you should expect your parliamentarian to represent the entire population of St. Maarten and not only party affiliates or party interests. You should expect your parliamentarian to be involved in legislation, which boils down to reading, debating, amending, drafting and passing laws.

Another very important role of your parliamentarian is that he or she manages, supervises or controls the functioning of a minister or of the Council of Ministers. Very often we see parliamentarians who do not know their function sitting on the seat of a minister. For example, parliamentarians who want to shine at ground breaking ceremonies or at contract signing events, are really out of place and are usurping the authority of that particular minister.

We also hear parliamentarians referring to their minister, which is totally out of order. No wonder parliamentarians are unable to supervise and control the executive branch of government when they have placed themselves directly on the executive level together with the minister. The question then is, who controls who? What about the checks and balances given to parliament to control government?

Our constitution gives parliament very specific tools to be able to control a minister or the Council of Ministers. Parliament has the right (art. 62) to call in ministers at any time and question them on any topic pertaining to their portfolios. If the matter is serious, parliament then has the right to inquiry (art. 64), which means that a special committee can be established to investigate a decision taken by a minister of by the Council of Ministers.

In addition, parliament gets to set policy and priorities when it debates and approves the annual budget. This is yet another opportunity for parliament to monitor, control and set direction for government. Moreover, parliament also receives insight on the functioning of government from the reports submitted to parliament by the General Auditing Chamber and by the SOAB (Stichting Overheids Accountants Bureau, which is the government’s internal auditor).

Parliament, in the last two years, has also received four integrity reports. Yet we see that parliament has done nothing with or about all of these reports. Instead, parliamentarians prefer to “own” a minister or direct a minister but they are not willing to do the job they were elected to do, namely to control the functioning of a minister. Parliamentarians are elected to legislate and to control government. Voters, you must know this!

I am encouraging our voters not to fall for the sweet talk and the pie in the sky from politicians, who are soliciting your vote. When they promise you a project, a building, a job or increased wages ask them which laws these aspects fall under and how they plan to control the execution thereof. Let them know that you are well aware of their role and function as a parliamentarian.

Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the St. Maarten Christian Party