SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – “It would appear that in the past months, the agenda of Parliament is dictated by the Government. Several crucial meetings are still pending, questions by Members of Parliament still awaiting answers, yet urgent meetings at the behest of Government are called and rushed. Information promised during these meetings is not always forthcoming”, stated United Democrats Leader and Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot-Williams on Tuesday in a media statement.
The MP continued to state in a release issued on Sunday, August 23rd, that: “Granted, we are experiencing extraordinary times, but it is especially now that the Parliament of St. Maarten needs to be extremely vigilant in terms of the management of this country. I also believe that in its interaction with Government, Parliament needs to be conscious of the limitations of our civil service in terms of its capacity to deal with the many issues we are confronted with simultaneously.”
That the Corona virus is forcing the partial closure of many Government services is also alarming. The Government needs to -as matter of priority and urgency- have a Government Continuation Plan for especially the vital services but should also make virtual operations possible for most services, taking of course the security of the Government’s systems into consideration.
“Given this new reality, Parliament too needs to review its modus operandi, while ensuring its oversight role is not compromised and that the people we serve -through us- can be better informed and be assured that the government is not a run-away train.”
MP Wescot-Williams has identified several ways Parliament can be more efficient, while giving due consideration to the Government’s challenges in these times. She believes Parliament can decide to swiftly amend its Rules of Order to reflect the new reality and has proposed to the Meeting of Faction Leaders to urgently do so and to consider the following points:
Amending the question hour to provide a weekly/topical briefing platform for the government;
As much as possible provide questions for (public) meetings ahead of the meeting and per faction, avoiding the long adjournments;
stressing that Ministers as a rule inform Parliament when answers cannot be provided in a timely fashion;
Regulate the virtual meetings’ procedures and electronic communication;
Relieve the understaffed secretariat of parliament by having the Committee chairs draft their own reports of committee meetings.