PHILIPSBURG–Members of Parliament (MPs) closed off the 2017-2018 Parliamentary Year on Monday with the across-party-lines message to the Council of Ministers to beware that the World Bank has its demands when doling out money from the Dutch financed recovery trust fund. Ministers were called on by opposition MPs to be more respectful of Parliament.
The World Bank has been contracted by the Dutch government to administer the 550 million euros earmarked for the country’s recovery after the devastation of Hurricane Irma a year ago.
MP Rolando Brison (United St. Maarten Party) used his year-coming speech to continue his call for caution in delaying with the World Bank. The country’s Constitution “does not have the World Bank in it.”
Brison cautioned ministers for using Parliament as “a rubber stamp” particularly in the budget process as well as for what he deems their reluctance to give lawmakers requested information. The entire budget process must be overhauled, legal financial deadlines must be met and attention must be paid to the proper establishment of the long-pending St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA), he said.
Saying, “I really, really love this job,” Brison also singled out his fellow “millennials” in Parliament to commend them on the good working relationship across party lines.
MP Claude Peterson (St. Maarten Christian Party) said in his tenure he fully intends to define “who is a St. Maartener” and to initiate laws aimed at securing a prosperous future for the people. He looks forward to working on electoral reform and campaign finance reform to improve the democratic process and to exercise his oversight role as an MP.
Peterson recalled the ravages of Hurricane Irma that exposed St. Maarten’s lack of preparedness for major disasters and lack of financial resources to meet the needs of the people. He urged the Council of Ministers to make roof repair and job creation priorities. In the rebuilding process, he called for government to protect workers’ rights and to seek a better relationship between the public- and private sectors.
The Council of Ministers “must remain in the driver’s seat in rebuilding our island and seeking other sources of funding” in addition to the World Bank-administered Recovery fund financed by the Dutch Government.
MP Theo Heyliger (United Democrats) said it was important for Parliament to reflect on what it has been able to achieve for the people who elected all MPs, because beyond the legislature the people have no control over who can further represent them. This is due to continued outside influence from the Dutch Government.
St. Maarten should be in charge of her own autonomy, but there is constant discussion in Parliament “about who is telling us what to do.” That point Parliament must reflect on in order to move the country forward, said Heyliger. “Because it cannot be that our hands are constantly tied by institutions like the CFT [Committee for Financial Supervision – Ed.] that was supposed to be a temporary situation and now has become more or less a permanent situation.”
Heyliger decried “the dripping of the funds through the World Bank” that is direly needed to hasten recovery efforts.
In contrast to how fast money flowed to rebuild Europe after World War II, St. Maarten’s recovery is mired in red tape, he pointed out. The MP added his hope that the country will be granted more financial and justice autonomy in the near future. “We must be able to push the agenda forward and not someone else.”
MP William Marlin (National Alliance) in his reflection said, “Irma brought out the worst in some MPs” and led them to “stoop to an all-time low” instead of standing together for the country. Marlin, referring to himself and his turbulent days prior to his forced resignation as prime minister after Irma, also said those MPs, who he did not name, “destroyed a man and his family” while the man was “standing tall” in support of his country.
Marlin called on all MPs to “move on” to better serve the country and called for follow up on United Nations (UNs) measures related to self-governance.
Like fellow opposition MP Brison, Marlin said ministers should respect Parliament and parliament’s apparatus must adhere to the request of MPs for committee or urgent meetings. NA will keep a close eye on any attempt “to stifle the workings of [Parliament – Ed.] committees.”
The NA “has high hopes in the future and much love for this nation,” Marlin said, noting that the eight-year milestone of country-within-the-Dutch-Kingdom is just weeks away on October 10. “We have come a long way in eight years.” Mistakes, however, must be corrected to secure “a prosperous St. Maarten.”
Marlin spoke on NA’s behalf in the absence of party leader MP Silveria Jacobs.
Parliament Chairwoman MP Sarah Wescot-Williams (United Democrats) said there is room to improve the connection between the people and Parliament as there is misunderstanding of the legislature’s role eight years on.
She said it is time for Parliament to renew its vision and commitment to the country’s people and for MPs “to give the people of St. Maarten everything we have.” This connectivity and commitment can come from pooling “the creativity” MPs usually start out with and the experience of those who are serving for an extended period.
Using the formula of creativity and experience, Parliament will be “a force to reckon with,” because division among MPs “will be used to weaken the structure of Parliament” by outside forces.
The closing session of the Parliamentary Year allows for faction leaders to give their overview of the past months. The 2016-2017 year was closed against the backdrop of Irma’s aftermath.
With the close of the 2017-2018 year on Monday, the 2018-2019 parliamentary year will take place today, Tuesday. This is constitutionally mandated to take place annually on the second Tuesday in September. Wescot-Willams pointed out that unless the Constitution is amended this essential changeover in the legislative calendar will continue to take place in the peak of the annual Atlantic Hurricane Season.