PHILIPSBURG–Opposition National Alliance (NA) is “taken aback” by the Council of Ministers’ planned holiday recess and has questioned how exactly government will function without weekly governance meetings.
NA leader Member of Parliament Silveria Jacobs and fellow MP William Marlin said in a press conference in Parliament House on Thursday that this is the first time they have heard about an extended recess of the Council of Ministers. They both have served in the council in the past and did not have such a recess.
Jacobs said the party had heard that civil servants had been informed by the Council of Ministers Secretariat that all documents in need of decision must be submitted for decision by December 18, ahead of the planned recess from December 24, 2018, until January 8, 2019.
The NA parliamentarians asked what will happen with urgent decisions and daily operations of government during this holiday recess.
Jacobs expressed concern about government’s, in particular Minister of Social Development Emil Lee’s, lack of focus on general social needs such as tackling poverty and ensuring residents have proper accommodation more than a year after the 2017 hurricanes. She said the minister’s focus has been almost exclusively on getting a new hospital built.
The symbolic ground-breaking for the hospital project prompted Jacobs to question why this had been carried out earlier this week when it is clear there will be delays due to issues with the contractor chosen. She questioned when exactly the project will physically start – whether this will be in three months or longer.
There is still bafflement about when the 2019 draft budget will be formally tabled in Parliament for debate, according to Jacobs. She also queried whether MPs should spend time combing through the draft submitted to Parliament or a new draft would come based on the reduction of expenditures as advised by the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT.
Marlin and MP Ardwell Irion remarked on the Finance Minister Perry Geerlings’ “ranting and raving” when asked about the status of the 2019 draft budget in the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday.
Marlin said Geerlings had behaved “like a little spoiled child” and is yet to give a clear explanation about the status of the draft budget.
Both Marlin and Irion said it was good for Geerlings to preach about togetherness and working to build the country as a unified group, but this also requires cooperation from government. Marlin said Geerlings seems to have forgotten that a year ago he was not sending the same message when he was one of the biggest critics of the then-government.
Geerlings had also remarked in his tirade that he is constantly called to Parliament to answer questions and that he has work to do and that MPs should do more to better the country. Irion’s response was that MPs cannot do their job if ministers do not appear in Parliament to give information.
The NA representatives all decried the way Parliament Chairwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams is handling their requests for “urgent” meetings of Parliament. Based on the Rules of Order, urgent meetings should be called within four days of a request. Wescot-Williams’ stance is that the classification of urgent lies with the chairperson and it is not that MPs can call an urgent meeting.
NA MPs hope to iron out this issue as soon as possible. Similarly, they hope quirks with the Question Hour will also be regulated and standardised.
There are more gripes about the administration of Parliament. Jacobs and Irion cited a long list of meetings they have requested and are still awaiting placement on the meeting schedule as well as suspended meetings for which ministers have to return to deliver answers to pressing issues.
Another administrative hiccup, according to Jacobs, is Education and Sports Minister Wycliffe Smith arranging for MPs to visit schools as requested in a recent meeting, but the scheduling of the visit never being shared with MPs.
Jacobs said twice in recent weeks she was called by schools that were expecting a visit from her, but she was unaware of the meeting. In researching, she said, she found that Smith had scheduled the meetings and informed the administration of Parliament, but this was never communicated to MPs.
Recycling and traffic
Also, in the sphere of education, Jacobs is disheartened that Philipsburg Jubilee Library is no longer set to receive recovery funding via the Dutch-financed trust fund administrated by the World Bank. Jacobs put the library on a list of entities to receive funding in December 2017 during her tenure as education minister. She has written to Smith querying the library’s removal from the list.
Government seems to be waiting on the World Bank to make a decision for it on the way forward with tackling the country’s solid-waste-management problem, said Marlin. It is sad, he said, that 2018 is nearing its end and no concrete solution for the constantly-smoking dump has been determined.
While the path of a dump solution seems blocked, Marlin urged residents to continue or start recycling by making use of the recycling bin placed by Meadowlands N.V. on its property on Bush Road. He commended the company on taking this important step in helping to solve the dump problem.
On a safety aspect, Marlin called on government to replace missing traffic signs as soon as possible to prevent “people getting into accidents out of ignorance.” The missing signs, more than a year after the hurricane, pose a threat to traffic, he said.