Last week, the Office of the Ombudsman held a very successful Open House, with the aim to inform the public of its functioning.
For me, the highlight of the Open house was the very simple, yet profound, presentation given by the Ombudsman herself, Dr. Nilda Arduin. The presentation centered on the topic “We, the People.”
Dr. Arduin pointed out that in a democracy the people rule. She went on to compare a country to a house. As the owners of the house are working people and therefore unable to do their own house chores, they hire a domestic aid or servant to handle the chores and to run the household on their behalf. Even when the owners are not at home, the house still belongs to them and they have the right to monitor and supervise the work of the housekeeper. If he or she does not clean the house well, does not wash the dirty clothes, or allows the dirty dishes to pile up in the sink, then the owners have the right to break the contract, fire that servant and look for another more capable and competent person. Logically, if the servant is doing a good job the owners will keep him/her in their service.
When we apply this analogy to St. Maarten, then the house is Country St. Maarten, the owners of the house are the eligible voters, the servant is parliament and the contract is our constitution. Important to note is that the first words of the Constitution read: “We, the people of St. Maarten.” Therefore, the most important group of people in the country is the people and not the parliamentarians or the government.
Since all the eligible voters in St. Maarten are unable to physically run the country, they elect fifteen candidates to do this for them. These candidates take the oath of office as parliamentarians to represent “we, the people” to the best of their abilities. So, in truth and in fact, parliament is not the highest authority in the country; it is “we, the people,” who “hire” the parliamentarians to run our country on our behalf.
In other words, the parliamentarians are our servants. We, the people, pay them extremely well and we expect optimal service from them. If we are satisfied with their performance, then we can retain them by electing them for another four years. However, if they are not performing their duties as faithful, diligent and competent servants, then it is our obligation as owners of the house to fire them by not re-electing them.
Since St. Maarten is our house then, we, the people, must ensure that the candidates whom we elect are working well on our behalf and to our satisfaction. Hence, we need to continuously monitor our parliamentarians and let them know how they are performing. How can we monitor our parliamentarians?
We should listen, watch and/or attend the public meetings of parliament and the various committee meetings. Listening to our parliamentarians address the issues, one can tell whether they prepared themselves for meetings or whether they are just winging it. Regrettably, most parliamentarians do not prepare themselves very well. You will find them making general statements, making reference to previous statements, or just speaking off-the-cuff. Apparently, even our first-time elected parliamentarians are following the same trend.
Another way, to evaluate our parliamentarians, is to observe how well they are overseeing the affairs of government. As it is impossible for fifteen parliamentarians to run the country by themselves, the constitution allows parliament to appoint seven ministers to run the day to day affairs of the country with the help of hundreds of civil servants. Overseeing these ministers and their related ministries, divisions and departments is a humungous task.
This is why Parliament also appoints advisory bodies known as High Councils of State which are: the General Audit Chamber, the Council of Advice and the Ombudsman. These advisory bodies report annually to Parliament on how government is functioning. At times, they even dare to wrap Parliament over the knuckles.
For example, the General Audit Chamber, informed Parliament, in its October 2016 report on Administrative Appointments, that the “lack of transparency is worrisome [and] it constitutes a threat to the integrity of government.” In its recommendations, the Chamber also advised Parliament to ensure that ministers, representing government-owned entities, follow the appointment procedure correctly. One cannot get clearer or more specific advice than this.
Yet, when last did Parliament call out a minister on his/her actions? When did Parliament ever discuss the advices and reports of the High Councils of States and followed up on their recommendations?
Another way of evaluating parliament is to read its annual reports. In these reports, you would find out, how many meetings our parliamentarians attended or did not attend. You would also get to know that during the past six years parliament received 86 draft laws from government, but only 44 were passed, a mere 50%.
You would also be surprised to find out that during the same period parliament itself only initiated and drafted one law namely: the Timeshare Ordinance, which was passed on February 22, 2017. One initiative law in six years does not speak of a very productive parliament.
The house of parliament belongs to “we, the people” and if our parliamentarians, whom we have elected to represent us, are not doing a good job, then we, the people need to hold them accountable in the same manner that we expect them to hold the government accountable.
Leader of the St. Maarten Christian Party