The empty seat in Parliament



For several weeks now, one seat in parliament has remained obviously empty. When, the President of Parliament, at the beginning of public meetings or of Central Committee meetings, asks if there are any notifications, not one parliamentarian, not even the USP faction leader reports on the absence of MP Silvio Matser.

In my opinion, only sickness can justify the continuous absence of a member of parliament. Therefore, if MP Matser is sick then the right thing for him or his faction leader to do would be to notify parliament of such and to occasionally offer updates regarding his recovery. I am sure that, with this information, the people would also make sure to include him in their prayers.

Parliamentarians are directly elected to parliament by the people, to represent all of the people according to article 44 of the constitution. Therefore, the people should be concerned, when someone whom they elected and who accepted the seat does not represent them for an extended period of time. If an MP is unable to represent the people then he or she should surrender his or her seat to the next person on the electoral list. This is the ethical thing to do.

What is most disconcerting is the fact that the first picture on Parliament’s website is a photograph of parliament in session with an empty seat that just springs out at you. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. This picture, on the website, is telling the people of Sint Maarten that parliament has no clue as to when MP Matser would be present in parliament and not being able to wait any longer for him to show up, parliament has gone ahead and posted the picture with the empty seat.

Actually, if the current coalition in parliament takes no action on a matter such as this then a parliamentarian can continue to be absent for the entire four years of his or her term, once he or she remains in the country. According to article 49 “membership of parliament lapses through an uninterrupted stay outside the country of more than eight months.” One can see, how easy it would be to circumvent this article and remain outside of the country for the greater part of a four-year term.

Besides having membership on two other parliamentary committees, MP Matser is currently also representing the people on the Ad Hoc Committee for the Preparation of the Construction of a New Building for Parliament. He has served on this committee for the last three years. The first year he was a member of the committee and the second year he was appointed vice chairman of the committee. Currently he serves as the chairman of this committee. Apparently, this committee, like most of the other parliamentary committees, is only a paper committee?

This committee should have already come with plans for a new Parliament Building. The lease on the Parliament building, which costs US $96,000 per month will expire in September 2017 and government has no other choice but to renew the lease agreement. The question is if a new lease agreement will be negotiated or if the old one which included the repairs and renovation of the building will simply be copied and signed again? It would be a good idea, if at the signing of the lease agreement the Ad Hoc Committee for the Preparation of the Construction of a New Building for Parliament could present the plans and budget for the new Parliament Building. However, given the prolonged absence of the chairperson MP Matser, one cannot expect much output from the Committee, unless the vice chairperson MP Drs. Rodolphe Samuel takes over in the absence of the MP Matser.

SMCP is calling on the current coalition in Parliament to look into the matter of the empty seat in parliament and do something about it. We are surprised that the minority or opposition in parliament has not yet raised any questions concerning this matter.

Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party