The Central Committee of Parliament made history last week when it scheduled ample time to discuss the 2016-2020 Governing Program “Solidarity for Prosperity”. As far as I can recall, this is the first time that Parliament planned so many meetings to handle a governing program. The only other topic for which so many meetings are scheduled by parliament is the country’s budget. I am a strong believer that these two go hand in hand and we should expect to see the priorities and projects listed in the governing program also reflected in all future budgets presented.
The United Democratic Alliance (UDA), comprised of the USP, DP and NA factions, also ought to be commended for their display of unity during the opening presentation. Unfortunately, the individual presentations by the various ministers sounded more like the wish list of excited children in a toy store who want everything in the store without taking their parents’ pocketbook into consideration. The Ministers should have presented a more realistic overview of their 2017 plans and how these corroborate with the 2017 budget of the country. In my opinion, the Minister of Education came the closest to doing just that.
Parliamentarians, who are part of the coalition, should realize that working on drafting the governing program does not exempt them from still being critical and asking pertinent questions concerning the program. They must remember that the general public did not get the opportunity to read the governing program for themselves and therefore, any question or comment raised by a parliamentarian would definitely help to further inform and enlighten the general public. In addition, I am of the opinion that the governing program must be synchronized with the budget. Just as parliamentarians raised many critical questions during the budget debate, they should also be just as critical about the governing program, particularly as it relates to financing the various plans and projects.
The President of Parliament, the Honorable Sarah Wescot-Williams, although being part of the UDA coalition, still raised several pertinent points regarding the governing program and even went as far as to caution the government to “keep their finger on the pulse of” issues such as waste management, the hospital and health care and the integrity chamber. The other members of parliament, especially our first-time parliamentarians, can learn a lot from the vast parliamentary experience of our President of Parliament.
The absence of the United People’s Party (UPP) at the meeting is regrettable and cause for great concern. The UPP faction missed out on a golden opportunity to truly represent the people of Sint Maarten. People call the UPP the opposition in Parliament. The better name, however, would be “the minority faction”, because the word “opposition” implies that their job is solely to oppose whatever government proposes or does, which is not the case. The role of the minority faction is to be very critical of government’s proposals in order to ensure that these benefit the people and are executed in a responsible manner. In fact, this should be the role of all parliamentarians, whether they are in the coalition or in the minority faction.
Unfortunately, the UPP parliamentarians chose to be missing in action and consequently did not live up to their responsibility to represent all of the people of Sint Maarten as stipulated in article 44 of the Constitution. This type of political tactics belongs to old school politics and do not contribute to raising the bar in parliament. If they were present, the UPP minority faction would have demonstrated political maturity. Are we to interpret this absence to mean that the governing program is worthless and does not deserve UPP’s time or energy? Does this absence signify that UPP does not care about the people’s business and does not have any interest in the plans that government has for this country? Is this absence an indication that the party is still upset and bitter about not being in government and that this is a way to boycott everything that the ADU government plans to do for the people? Does UPP’s absence mean that the minority faction in parliament is not taking its commitment to represent the people seriously? I am of the opinion that once politicians have been elected to parliament they should begin to act like statesmen and put the people’s business before politics. It is time we raise the bar in our parliament! I believe that the UPP faction owes all the people of Sint Maarten, whom they should have been representing during the meeting on the governing program, an explanation and/or an apology.
What example did the UPP faction set and what message have they sent by being absent and forfeiting their responsibility to represent the people? Are they telling our people that if they do not agree with the people on their jobs they can just stay away without giving a notice of absence or an apology? Being business people themselves, they very well know that in the corporate world this type of behavior would never be tolerated. There, it is expected that employees, who do not show up to work, give a valid reason for their absence otherwise they suffer the consequences. They can receive a warning, the time away from the job can be deducted from their salaries or they can eventually be fired. Unfortunately, in the case of our parliamentarians there is no immediate sanction. However, seeing that the UPP faction was absent without notice, I wonder ... would they do the honorable thing and instruct the President of Parliament to have the hours, that they did not attend the April 20th meeting, deducted from their salaries?
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party