Parliament needs to be transparent with its budget! During budget debates members of parliament pose numerous questions, some critical, many political, concerning government’s budgeting and spending, but no one raises questions about parliament’s budget and parliament’s spending. The reason for this is because parliament’s budget is camouflaged among the budgets of the High Councils of State. Furthermore, according to the Compatibility Ordinance and the Rules of Order of Parliament the budget of Parliament is drafted by the Secretariat of Parliament, approved by the Presidium and then sent to the Minister of Finance to be included in the national budget. So nobody really takes a critical look at parliament’s budget, not even the members of parliament themselves.

Did you know that in 2017 budget close to 400.000,00 guilders were allocated to vacation allowance for parliament? Annually, parliamentarians get a vacation allowance of 6% of their annual income. A parliamentarian grosses approximately Fl. 18.000,00 monthly. Now you do the math and calculate his or her vacation allowance! Yes, vacation allowance for parliamentarians who for most of the year seem to be on vacation. Yes, vacation allowance for parliamentarians who seemingly have no problem abdicating their responsibility to attend meetings and to represent the people. At the Tripartite and IPKO meetings currently taking place in the Netherlands, the UPP faction again forfeits the opportunity to represent the people. And the reason given is a flimsy excuse. According to Faction Leader Franklyn Meyers, after the discussion at the last IPKO meeting parties present were told that decisions taken were not binding. Does this mean that the UPP will be boycotting all future IPKO meetings? Yes, vacation allowance for parliamentarians whose absence is the cause that the President of Parliament has had to postpone many parliamentary committees meetings due to a lack of quorum? And what about the Member of Parliament who has been consistently absent from all meetings of parliament? I really wonder how parliamentarians feel collecting a vacation allowance when they should know they do not deserve it!

Have you wondered how much money is spent on Parlatino? Well you will not be able to find it in the budget. A seven man/woman parliamentary delegation recently returned to the island after attending yet another meeting of the Latin American Parliament, popularly called Parlatino. For six years our parliamentarians have been going faithfully, twice a year, to Panama to attend parliamentary meetings conducted in Spanish, a language which most of our parliamentarians are not versed in at that level. Even one of the integrity reports was very critical of our parliamentarians attending Parlatino. “It is negative for St. Maarten’s reputation, when at meetings of Parlatino the smallest country has the largest delegation”- a quote from “Doing the Right Things Right. Financially, our parliament’s association with Parlatino costs Sint Maarten tens of thousands of guilders in tickets, travel allowance, hotel accommodations and not forgetting a membership fee of approximately US$ 20,000.00 per year. Upon return from Parlatino the people of Sint Maarten do not get a report of what transpired during these meetings neither do we see, hear or experience any added value that these meetings have on our local parliamentarians.

Parliament controls, or rather ought to control the government’s budget and also the budgets of the High Councils of State, such as the Advisory Council, the Ombudsman, etc. But who controls Parliament’s budget? According to the Annual Reports of Parliament, the Financial Committee of Parliament meets with the High Councils of State to discuss their draft budgets. Yet Parliament does not even discuss its own budget in its Financial Committee. Parliament’s draft budget is only discussed by the Presidium which is currently comprised of the President and two Vice Presidents, namely MPs Sarah Wescot-Williams, Drs. Rodolphe Samuel and Frans Richardson respectively. The Annual Reports of Parliament make mention of the fact that the budget is also deliberated in a Faction leaders meeting. Legally, according to the Compatibility ordinance and the Rules of Order of Parliament, the budget need only be discussed and approved by the Presidium. SMCP believes that this should change and that Parliament’s budget should also be discussed in the Financial and Central Committee meetings and ultimately approved by parliament in a public meeting. Parliament should be made accountable to the people as far as its budget is concerned.

SMCP is of the opinion that just as each government department is represented in a separate chapter in the national budget, so also Parliament and each High Council of State should be listed as a separate chapter in the national budget. In this way, the people would be able to see exactly how much money each one of these institutions is costing the taxpayers. After Parliament, the highest supervisory body is the public (the voters) and as such they should have insight in the budget and financial statements of Parliament. The General Auditing Chamber has its complete budget online. Parliament should also exercise such transparency and post its budget online as well.

SMCP is of the opinion that Parliament’s finances should be audited and made public. If political parties are required to present a registered accountant’s report to the Electoral Council how much more should Parliament be also held accountable to the people for its financial management.

Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party