EBENEZER:--- The Parliament of Sint Maarten finally convened last Monday, September 25th, to be updated by the Minister of General Affairs, the Honorable William Marlin, on the passing of hurricane Irma. An update, after two and a half weeks, to the highest representative body in the country, is unacceptable!
It took the Dutch Parliament less than a week (they met on September 12th) to deal with the hurricane situation in Sint Maarten. Two days after hurricane Irma, Minister Plaster of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations had already informed the Dutch Parliament by letter of the situation. In addition, the Dutch government has made preliminary plans with regard to recovery and financial aid while the Parliament of Sint Maarten is still to get a full and true account of what transpired pre- and post-Irma.
After a two-hour presentation by the Minister of General Affairs, which did not give Parliament and the people a lot of new information, parliamentarians posed their questions to the Minister, who then needed two full days to prepare the answers. One would have then expected that after responding to Parliament’s questions on Thursday morning, that parliamentarians would have gone straightway into the second round of questioning. But no, this was not the case! The meeting for the second round was scheduled for Monday, October 2nd, four days later. If Parliament continues with this schedule, it will take them two whole weeks to be updated on hurricane Irma.
Is Parliament aware of the fact that, after the passing of hurricane Irma, the country has already moved from crisis and emergency modes and is now in recovery mode? One would have expected that a disaster of this magnitude and gravity would be given greater priority. It is time that parliamentarians hear from the Minister of General Affairs what plans are being drafted by Government for the structural, emotional, financial and economic recovery of the country.
According to the law, disaster preparedness and management are totally in the hands of the Minister of General Affairs. Article 8 states that he is authorized to give any and all instructions that he deems necessary. However, once a state of emergency is declared, the Prime Minister shares his authority with the Ministers of Justice and Telecommunication. Hence, if the Prime Minister is unable to answer questions concerning the curfew, the looting, poor communication and the blocking of the borders, then Parliament should call in the other two ministers for questioning. Since the Minister of General Affairs, does not know who gave orders to close the borders then the Minister of Justice ought to know because police officers, under his authority, were at the borders carrying out instructions. Something as serious as blocking an international border with a trailer and leaving that trailer unattended is extremely worrying. If the Minister of Justice cannot provide answers then Parliament should use its right of investigation to get to the bottom of this dispute.
Observing the meeting of Parliament, I noticed a disconnect with and a disrespect for Parliament by the Minister of General Affairs. After all, in the chain of command, Parliament is the higher authority, yet the Minister does not seem to take Parliament very seriously. It was disrespectful to wait until after his presentation to inform the President of Parliament publicly that he will not be available because he has another meeting. Proper protocol dictates that this should have been done prior to the public meeting. It also appears to me that Parliament was not officially included in meetings after the passing of hurricane Irma. I have seen videos and photographs of the King, the Governor and the Prime Minister touring the island but the President of Parliament seems to be missing in action. Am I to conclude that our President of Parliament was perhaps wearing high heel leathered shoes and therefore was unable to traverse the debris and the slippery hills?
Also, the Minister of General Affairs should not take the questions posed by the MPs personally but should answer every question objectively and factually without chiding and belittling the questioner. No question should be considered a stupid question! I commend MPs Tamara Leonard and Perry Geerlings who stood firm and insisted that their questions were not answered satisfactorily.
According to the Disaster Management Law, the Minister of General Affairs should have presented the Disaster Management Plan to Parliament as well as to the Collectivité of Saint Martin one month after its finalization. In this context, I commend MP Ardwell Irion for acknowledging, on behalf of his fellow parliamentarians, that Parliament was not as vigilant as it should have been regarding this matter. Furthermore, the law states that the plan should be synchronized with the Collectivité. Had this taken place, the closing of the borders would not be such a mystery today.
The Minister of General Affairs is obligated to present an evaluation report to Parliament six months after a disaster has occurred. However, to get the country back on its feet as quickly as possible, our Parliament should not drag its feet any longer on the Irma issue but should insist on receiving weekly briefings from the Prime Minister. Neither, should Parliament have to wait until the National Recovery Plan is completed in order to find out what Government is planning for the country and the people.
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party