Committees are the backbone of Parliament

Wycliffe Smith Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party


The system of parliamentary committees in the Netherlands is considered the backbone of the Dutch parliament. The review further indicates that two thirds of the work of parliament takes place in the committees.

Looking at how the committee system functions, in the parliament of Sint Maarten, we can only sadly conclude that our parliament is not functioning optimally due to the fact that the committees are not functioning.

The Annual Report of the Parliamentary Year 2015-2016 of Sint Maarten gives some insight as to how these committees are functioning. During the course of the parliamentary year, many of these committees held only one meeting and that meeting was simply to select the chair and the vice chair of the committee.

When we think and talk about Parliament, we are usually referring to the public meetings where laws are debated and approved. However, parliament is comprised of six official entities that must collaborate with each other, in order for the parliamentary process to be effective and productive.

These entities are: the secretariat, the presidium, the factions, the permanent and ad hoc committees, the central committee and of course, the public meetings. In this article, we will highlight the functioning of the permanent and ad hoc committees. These committees consist of small groups of members of Parliament who work together, in order to research, investigate and consider issues on behalf of Parliament. They are able to meet with people and call for documents to assist them in their work. They report their findings to the central committee and they can make recommendations for new laws or changes to existing laws.

The parliament of Sint Maarten currently has twelve committees: 8 are permanent and 4 are ad hoc committees. Seven of the permanent committees are named after the seven ministries of government, and the purpose of each one of these committees is to supervise the ministry they are named after.

For example, the Permanent Committee of Justice has the responsibility to supervise, monitor and control all of the entities that fall under the Justice Ministry, which are: the police department, the prison and house of detention, the Immigration and Border Protection Service, Customs, Bureau Unusual Financial Transactions, Court of Guardianship, Coast Guard, Department of Judicial Affairs, the Justice Academy, Attorney General Office, Public Prosecutor Office, and Joint Court of Justice.

This committee should be meeting with the Minister of Justice and questioning him verbally and in writing about the various issues regarding his ministry. This committee should also be studying the various reports pertaining to the Justice Ministry. The safety of the guards as well as of the prisoners need to be looked into. The shortage of guards, due to high rates of sick leave is another issue that needs the committee’s attention. In addition, many of the guards are demotivated, due to the fact that they are not in the right salary scale? The lawsuit of the Pointe Blanche Inmates Association should also be an area of concern. After meeting with the various stakeholders and researching the related topics, the Justice Committee should submit its report with a request for a meeting with the Central Committee to discuss the findings of the Justice Committee. The Central Committee in turn can decide to submit these findings and recommendations to the Public Meeting of Parliament.

Parliament in turn can issue instructions to the Minister or to Government via a motion. It goes without saying that the Justice Committee would monitor the follow-up action. Not complying with parliament’s instruction could eventually lead to a motion of non-confidence. Just as the Justice Committee should supervise all the services that fall under the Ministry of Justice, so also, all the other parliamentary committees should do with their respective ministries.

An example of how committees operate can be seen in the functioning of the Committee of Kingdom Relations of the Dutch Parliament. We are all familiar with Dutch parliamentarians Ronald van Raak and André Bosman. These two gentlemen are also members of the permanent Committee of Kingdom Relations. The Minister responsible for Kingdom Relations is Minister Ronald Plasterk. When anything happens in the Dutch Caribbean you notice that Bosman and van Raak immediately confront Minister Plasterk in writing about it and they also bring it to the attention of the Dutch and Caribbean public via the media. Hence, when they comment on the lack of integrity in government, and make statements about corruption and the poor prison system on Sint Maarten, we think that they are meddling and that they should mind their own business. But, as members of parliament, they are only doing their job, by holding their Minister accountable.

SMCP expects our parliamentarians, as members of their respective parliamentary committees, to hold our ministers and government accountable for their action and decisions. Let’s not forget that two thirds of the work of parliament is done in the committees. Therefore, if the various parliamentary committees begin to function as they should, we would certainly see a big difference in the functioning of parliament.

Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party