Parliament, Our Weak Link

Wycliffe Smith Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party


Some people wonder why my writings deal mostly with the Parliament of Sint Maarten. This is because our Parliament is a new constitutional institution.

During the last campaign, leading up to the September 26, 2016 elections, the Sint Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) observed that the majority of the people knew and understood very little about our Parliament and about the role and function of the parliamentarians they were about to elect.

The people generally equated the role of a parliamentarian with that of a minister. SMCP’S role during the campaign was to constantly inform the people about the role and function of parliament because, after all, it was a parliamentary election. We also committed ourselves to continue to inform and educate the people whether we were elected or not.

The other reason for focusing on our parliament is my belief that change starts at the top. Parliament is the supreme oversight institution in Sint Maarten and as such is the leader institution in the country. It sets the tone, the pace and is the face of Sint Maarten. I believe that if Parliament is functioning well the rest of government (Council of Ministers and civil service) would also fall in line.

I am reminded of the quote by well-known leadership guru, John Maxwell: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” This means that parliament, as the leader institution in our society, has the awesome responsibility to set the tone and the pace in terms of good governance. The reason why, the government, the civil service, the economy, the justice system etc. are not functioning as they should, is because our country’s leading institution is not functioning as it should. It is my belief that if the functioning of parliament improves we will see improvement in every other sector of our society.

We, the people of Sint Maarten, must realize that, if Parliament is functioning poorly, we can do something about it. For six years, our parliament has gotten away with poor governance, because we were too focused on government and on the ministers. We must accept, the fact that we cannot do much about the government and the ministers, because we did not put them there. We did not appoint them. The ones who we must hold accountable, for their own functioning as well as for the poor performance and decisions of government and the ministers are the fifteen parliamentarians that we elected to parliament.

We can demand that they do their jobs. We can demand that they control and supervise the government and the ministers. We can demand that our elected parliamentarians control the expenditures and revenues of the country better. We can demand that our parliament passes legislation that would promote the common good and ensure a good quality of life for all the people in this country. And…, if our elected parliamentarians do not perform to our satisfaction, we can remove them by voting them out of office when the time comes.

We cannot remove the government or a minister. It is the parliament who hired them and put them there. Therefore, parliament is the only body that can fire them. So, if we have questions and criticism regarding government, let us voice our concerns to our representatives in parliament and let them work on our behalf.

I believe that we, the people, have not done a good job at holding our parliamentarians accountable. We have not set high standards for them to govern by. We have accepted, that it is okay, for our parliamentarians to receive a very high salary and deliver mediocre to poor work.

We have accepted, that it is okay, for parliamentarians to debate on the floor of parliament, without having read the documents at hand. We have accepted, that our parliamentarians can be members of a committee without ever having to meet to discuss issues relevant to that committee. We have accepted, that in six years of parliamentary existence not one initiative legislation has been approved. We have accepted, that it is okay, for parliament to pass motions, but never to follow up on them. We have accepted, that it is okay, that parliament does not follow up on the advices submitted by the high councils of state. We have accepted, that it is okay, that parliament has not yet had a debate concerning good governance as presented in the various integrity reports.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Transparency International (TI) has given our parliament a grade of 2.5, for each of the following items: integrity, executive oversight, transparency and accountability. For TI, our parliament is considered “weak”. In my grading system, this is definitely a failing grade. Our parliament has failed and fooled us and it appears that we are okay with it.

We, the people, must realize that our job is to monitor and control parliament and that the job of parliament is to monitor and control the government! If government is not performing well then it is parliament’s job to make sure that government’s functioning improves. If this does not happen then parliament has the right and the authority to send the government home, via a vote of non-confidence. On the other hand, if our parliamentarians are not functioning then we, the people, we the voters, have the right and the authority to send them home at the end of their term.

If we do what we have to do, we can help turn our weak parliament into a strong institution?

Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party