Is Parliament boycotting the code of ethics?

Wycliffe Smith Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party


In addition to boycotting the establishing of the Integrity Chamber, Parliament appears to also be boycotting the formalization of a code of conduct.

Last week, the Chairlady of Parliament had to cancel the meeting of the Central Committee because there was no quorum when the second agenda point, namely a parliamentary code of conduct, was to be discussed. Isn’t it odd that there was a quorum for the first agenda point i.e. the Anti-Poverty Platform, but after a short break, only seven members of parliament remained for the continuation of this meeting!

Despite the Chairlady’s request for at least one member to come back inside the meeting hall and despite the official thirty minutes wait to see if any of the MPs outside of the meeting hall would adhere to her request, the meeting had to be called off, due to a lack of quorum. This is not the first time that committee meetings concerning the code of conduct had to be cancelled due to no quorum.

It is the intention that the topic of the code of conduct for parliamentarians be first handled in the Ad Hoc Committee for Integrity, which is comprised of all four faction leaders. At the first such meeting for this year that was called on February 22 only two faction leaders were present, namely the faction leaders of the NA and the DP. The UPP faction leader sent a notice of absence, but the USP faction leader was absent without notice. Nevertheless, the meeting proceeded.

The second and third meetings, called on April 6 and June 1 respectively, had to be cancelled due to a lack of quorum. It seems to me that the Chairlady of the Ad Hoc Integrity Committee, MP Sarah Wescot-Williams, who is also the Chairlady of Parliament, deliberately and strategically sandwiched the topic of the code of conduct between the three agenda points of the Central Committee in the hope that members of parliament would be present during this entire Central Committee meeting.

But unfortunately, even this strategy didn’t work because when the time came to discuss the code of conduct one MP disappeared resulting in the lack of a quorum, which then caused the Chairlady to have to cancel the meeting.

The non-cooperation and non-participation, when it comes to integrity matters and particularly to the code of conduct, have been very obvious even since the genesis of the Ad Hoc Integrity Committee, which was established on February 15, 2015. This very first meeting, according to a report in the Today Newspaper, got “off to what felt like a reluctant start. Requests for committee members to take the floor were followed by awkward moments of silence, before one of them finally jumped in.” One member even proposed to hold future meetings behind closed doors.

A letter to the editor, dated November 5, 2015, submitted by the first chairman of the committee, Dr. Cornelius de Weever, stated that each meeting that he convened was “road blocked” by members of parliament. More than two years after its establishment, this committee has absolutely nothing to show for itself, other than attending some meetings and boycotting others. I am reminded here, of the press statement made by MP Sarah Wescot-Williams to Soualiga News, on October 20, 2016, when she said that every idle hour of an MP costs the tax payers approximately Fls. 900, per MP. Can you imagine how much money these two unproductive years of the Ad Hoc Integrity Committee have cost us the tax payers?

The question remains, why would our parliamentarians seemingly reject the implementation of a code of conduct, which is a very common law among parliaments in the region and around the world? Besides, the integrity reports written about government and parliament strongly recommend that parliament implement a code of conduct. Do our parliamentarians not see the need and the importance of implementing a code of conduct? Only parliament can pass such a law, which would help parliament to police itself but would also give the people a standard by which to hold parliament accountable.

Why a code of conduct? A code of conduct would regulate, among other things, the financial disclosure by members of parliament before accepting their seat in parliament and at the end of their parliamentary tenure. MPs would also be required to disclose all of their side jobs and their business interests, including their shareholder-ships. The code would stipulate whether the monthly salary that our MPs currently enjoy is commensurate with a part-time or a full-time position.

Right now parliamentarians behave as if they are part-timers. The code of conduct would also regulate the acceptance of gifts or favors received by members of parliament. It would also define conflicts of interest that parliamentarians can encounter such as situations where MPs must choose between the duties and demands of their professional role and their own private interests. A code of conduct would certainly help to boost accountability and professionalize politics in parliament.

Nowadays, parliament does not have to invent the wheel because the United Nations as well as the European Council have developed models or frameworks that parliaments can use when drafting their own codes of conduct. Furthermore, according to the Chairlady, parliament has already received a draft code of conduct, which now needs to be discussed and finalized so that it can be sent to a public meeting of parliament for approval.

For the life of me, I fail to comprehend why fifteen intelligent MPs, in the span of two years, are incapable of agreeing on a code of conduct. The only reason that comes to mind is that they are unwilling because it does not serve their interests and they do not want to be held accountable for their action.

Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party