PHILIPSBURG–Make an inventory of all the country’s existing laws and regulations to ensure time is not wasted on drafting new ones when all that is needed is enforcement of the existing ones, Ombudsman Nilda Arduin told Parliament when she presented her 2016 Year Report on Friday.
Such an inventory will give Parliament, as well as Government and its civil servants, a reference point for research and application. The list will also provide examples of which laws are working well, those that are completely outdated, in need of amendments or those that exist, but for one of more reasons are not being enforced completely or properly.
The Ombudsman’s suggestion to Parliament grew from the recent passing of the Timeshare Protection Ordinance, a law that seeks to provide timeshare buyers much needed but so far absent protection when buying, re-selling and/or maintaining their units here.
Aspects of the law initiated by Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot-Williams, can already be found in an existing law governing companies that operate hotel properties. Arduin, who had written her doctoral thesis on the timeshare sector, said that law already calls for such companies to formulate regulations for usage, among others, for this property.
This aspect of the law has not been enforced, she noted, adding that it calls for the company to put together the rules and regulations for its property and lodge a copy with the Ministry of Tourism and Economic Affairs TEATT. A copy, as prescribed in the law, must also be logged at the Court to ensure easy access by interested parties.
The recently passed timeshare law has not yet reached the Ombudsman for the obligatory review. TEATT Minister Mellissa Arrindell-Doncher still has to affix her signature to the law, the first-ever initiative law tabled by a MP.
The Ombudsman also expressed her continuing disappointment about the lack of follow up by Government and its departments on recommendations made by her Bureau to fix issues commonly encountered by the public.
Though her seven-year term is nearing its end, Arduin told MPs the Bureau intends to continue “championing” the need for Government and its departments to response to recommendations and make the requisite changes. The Ombudsman does not exist to punish Government, but to aid in the improvement of services offered to the community.
One glaring example of recommendations being ignored is the Ombudsman’s 2012 report on the functioning of the Foundation Cadastre and Mortgages (commonly referred to as the Kadaster). There has been no response from Government or the board of the foundation. While some improvement of the service has been cited in the past years, residents are still filing complaints at the Ombudsman for long pending issues there.
In general, the Ombudsman strongly urged Government via Parliament to respond to request and inquiries from the residents in a timely manner, as government is in place to serve the people. It is better for a resident “to receive a motivated no, rather than no answer at all” from Government and its departments.
A motivated “no” does not leave the resident requesting a service from government “in limbo” not stops progress, for instance in the case of a permit request. A “no” would mean the applicant will have to seek out another avenue to achieve their goal instead of waiting for years for an answer, she pointed out. The public needs to get “clear cut answers.”
Government and its departments also need to publish the lists of its services, documents needed and procedure to be followed when requesting services, said the Ombudsman. All of these elements must be clear, concise and transparent for all seeking access to the services.
Access to information for Government, though improved, could still be better. The Ombudsman is awaiting a plan from the TEATT Ministry outline how it will deal with noise pollution. She hopes this information will be received from the Ministry before month’s end at which time a graduate student is expected to join the bureau to conduct a study on this subject. The resulting study will hopefully put forward recommendations to tackle and diminish the pollution.
MPs welcomed the recommendations by Arduin. They commended her for her service to the country as its first ombudsman as her seven-year term nears its end. The process to appointment a new ombudsman is on the way.