Raising the bar in Parliament in 2017



The people of St. Maarten expect a higher level of functioning from our Parliament in the New Year. Following a trial and error period of six years, our MPs should begin to raise the bar in 2017.

We expect our MPs, while on the floor of Parliament, to stick to the business at hand and not be carried away by personal or emotional circumstances. According to article 53 of the Constitution, parliamentarians should refrain from debating and voting on issues related to their person, their spouses or family members to the second degree.

If MPs are not pleased with the way family members are treated, this should be handled privately and not addressed on the floor of Parliament. MPs should not be bringing family issues to the floor of Parliament.

Parliamentarians should also be aware that they are being heard, not only in St. Maarten, but regionally as well as internationally. The language used in Parliament should be adjusted for a wider audience. We do not expect our parliamentarians to use Oxford or American English, but we do expect them to express themselves in such a manner that our regional and international audiences can also understand them, and are not turned off by their grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation or speech content.

I am not degrading our local English, but there is a place and time for its use. In addition, parliamentarians should be consistent in the way they address the President of Parliament. If the President is female, then according to Robert’s Rules of Order, she should be addressed as Madame Chairman.

In English, the word chairman is considered gender neutral, just like the words governor, director or ombudsman. We don’t say governess or directress or ombudswoman. Also, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, when the chairman gives a parliamentarian permission to speak he does not give him/her the word, but rather the chairman “gives him/her the floor.”

Parliamentarians should refrain from walking out of the hall unnecessarily or from texting during public meetings. When the camera does a pan shot of the hall of our Parliament, it is shameful to see most of the MPs engrossed in texting, or to see so many empty seats. Walking out during parliamentary meetings may be a carry-over from the days of the Parliament of the Netherlands Antilles. But in those days, meetings were broadcasted via radio, so people did not see what was going on.

Today, our meetings are live video-casted and can be viewed later at everyone’s convenience. It looks very bad to see a lot of empty seats and MPs walking in and out, or texting. This gives the voters the impression that our MPs do not care about what their colleagues are saying. Basic courtesy and ethics teach us to respect a speaker by giving him or her our undivided attention.

MPs must also take into account the example they are setting in our society by this type of behavior.

Parliament should also take into consideration, that the public, watching and listening, has little information about the meeting. The President therefore, should give an explanation, not for the sake of the MPs, who are in possession of the agenda and the relevant documents, but for the sake of the general public, who does not have much of a clue as to what the meeting is all about.

Case in point is, the recent meeting concerning the appointment of members to the various parliamentary committees. No information was given to the public about the various committees and how they function. At the end of the meeting, the public had no clue which MPs were appointed and to which committees. This information was published several days later in the newspaper.

I believe that the President of Parliament should ensure that the public is duly informed concerning the meetings. The agenda alone does not say much.

For the people of St. Maarten who are unable to attend the live committee or public meetings, or listen or watch the live broadcast, the SMCP strongly recommends that all meetings should be recorded and made available via Parliament’s website or via YouTube.

Unfortunately, not all central committee and public meetings concerning the 2017 Budget have been recorded. SMCP also requests Parliament to improve the audio archives by labeling and dating them more clearly so that the public can better select the meeting or meetings they want to listen to. The same applies to the video archives.

SMCP proposes that, in 2017, our Parliament institutes a regular Meet the Press Hour once a month. During this hour, the President of Parliament and the Chairpersons of the various Parliamentary Committees should inform the press, regarding meetings, outcomes, plans, projects and activities.

Seeing that Parliament is a fairly new institution, these sessions can also be used to enlighten the public, as to the duties, rights, responsibilities and functioning of Parliament. MPs, please help to make Parliament more accessible to the public and raise the bar in Parliament in 2017.

Happy New Year St. Maarten!

Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the St. Maarten Christian Party