MPs want clarity on certain areas in draft code of conduct

PHILIPSBURG–Members of Parliament (MPs) on Tuesday expressed concern on the vagueness of some articles in the Draft Code of Conduct for MPs and called for clarity in some areas.

The MPs outlined their concerns during a meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament in which the draft was discussed. The objective of the code of conduct is to assist legislators to avoid placing themselves in positions that can be considered a conflict of interest. It is also intended to assist legislators to avoid using their office for private gain, from demeaning the office of Parliament and to avoid allowing their integrity to be called into question. The main elements include the registration of gifts to an MP, disclosure of ancillary activities and disclosure of travel in capacity of MP.

United St. Maarten Party (USP) MP Frans Richardson said there were a few areas in the draft code that need some clarity including the area of travel. He said it is not clear whether MPs would be required to report their travel, when it is for personal reasons, such as when MPs are vacationing with their families.

USP MP Chanel Brownbill said it is not clear whether it is considered a gift if a friend, whom an MP is in the company of during dinner, for example, purchases the meal, dined on by all guests including the MP. “You can go out for dinner and be sitting with a group of friends and if one person pays the bill, then it can come across as bribery so this needs to be clarified as well,” Brownbill said.

Democratic Party MP Perry Geerlings said there is a lot that is unclear when it comes to the draft. He wanted to know where the distinction lies when an MP is acting in his professional capacity and when he is a private citizen, given that the starting point is that an MP serves 24 hours a day and seven days a week. “So where do you draw the line on being a public figure and a private figure? The way it is written there is no distinction made between private citizen and MP. It should be very clear to us and to the public in general, what to expect and where we have to distinguish the difference.”

United People’s (UP) Party MP Tamara Leonard wanted to know whether MPs have to report new business endeavours at the start of each new parliamentary year so that it can be established that the MP in question is continuing business or is engaged in new business.

National Alliance (NA) MP George Pantophlet said the draft code is a very important document, but he stressed that it needed to be clear.

Chairperson of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams said the code has been in the making since 2015. Parliament had established an ad-hoc integrity committee to, amongst other things, establish a code of conduct for MPs. Since its inception the ad-hoc committee has met on several occasions to come up with a code of conduct. Based on suggestions, a draft code of conduct was presented and deliberated on in the ad-hoc integrity committee.

She said there was no need to reinvent the wheel on this matter, but noted, however, that when taking over common and best practices, one runs the risk of “overstretching” what is being taken over and applying it to a community with specificities that are unique to that community. Wescot-Williams said she understood the questions from MPs, but noted that codes of conduct are common for parliaments all over the world.

In addressing some of the issues raised by MPs, she said being an MP is a full time position so if, in addition to this, an MP holds other positions, it would be good for the public to take note of this. Wescot-Williams said she agreed with MPs that some of the issues needed to be more detailed.

The draft code of conduct defines a gift as being an item given willingly to an MP without payment including the cancellation of a liability as well as the fulfilment of an agreement for which the MP is favoured. Wescot-Williams said this might need some further clarification as there can be an ongoing discussion whether an MP is favoured, if it is his or her birthday, for example.

As it relates to ancillary activities, the draft describes this as a position that an MP holds or an activity that an MP performs next to his membership of Parliament in terms of employment, in relation to operation of business or trade or to fill a managerial or supervisory position.

A form that MPs can use to disclose their ancillary activities was also proposed. It is also suggested that an overview of these ancillary activities be published on Parliament’s website. Wescot-Williams urged MPs to examine the form and suggest changes, if necessary.

The Chairperson of Parliament said it is clear that there are areas that some MPs would like further clarified. She said the comments and suggestions made by MPs will be put to the ad-hoc integrity committee for their feedback.

Source: The Daily Herald