PHILIPSBURG–Whether or not to travel to Latin American Parliament Parlatino committee meetings saw Members of Parliament on the two sides of the aisle go head-to-head in the first meeting of the local Committee for Parlatino Affairs on Tuesday morning.
Opposition National Alliance and United St. Maarten Party MPs are in favour of lifting the suspension of travel to Parlatino committee meetings while those of the United Democrats/St. Maarten Christian Party coalition want the restriction to remain in place.
The one-year travel restriction was place in 2017 based on a motion tabled by NA parliamentarian Ardwell Irion and was unanimously approved by Parliament. The reason for the suspension was the country’s dire financial state due to the devastation of Hurricane Irma on September 6, 2017.
This initial restriction period has elapsed, leaving the committee to examine how it plans to move forward and to submit a proposal to this end to the general sitting of Parliament for approval.
Coalition MPs Sarah Wescot-Williams, Franklin Meyers and Jules James (United Democrats) and Claude Peterson (SMCP) are in favour of the continued suspension of travel to Parlatino committee meetings and allowing only for attendance at sessions of the general assembly and the board of directors. They argued that the country’s financial situation is not yet at a place where these committee meetings can be deemed essential travel.
Across the aisle the opinion was different to the point that the coalition, in particular longer-serving MPs, were accused of not wanting young/first term MPs to have their chance at “educational” travel.
MP Christophe Emmanuel (NA) said that if there is any “travel ban” it should cover all travel by MPs, including to sessions of the Inter-Parliamentary Kingdom Consultation IPKO and contact trips with Suriname. Based on the argument that the added value of Parlatino is not immediately visible, Emmanuel argued that he did not see the added value of going to Suriname or attending IPKO.
Confirming his support to resuming Parlatino travel, Emmanuel said he wants “to mingle” with MPs from Latin American countries to gain insight into regional issues such as the Venezuelan crisis. He also sees Parlatino as a conduit to lobby Latin American countries with a voice in the United Nations to expose the “atrocities” of the Dutch government against St. Maarten.
MP Egbert Doran (NA) viewed attendance at Parlatino committee meetings as “educational” and was not amused by what he saw as older MPs trying to restrict the education travel experience of younger parliamentarians.
MP Frans Richardson (US Party) also saw the continuation of the travel restriction as “taking away opportunity from younger members” and leaving travel for only a select few within Parliament. Those select few will have access to per diem and other travel allowances due to their membership in the Parlatino committee, when others affected by the restriction do not. Members of that Parlatino committee are also members of other parliamentary committees.
If MPs will not be able “to meet and rub shoulders” with Parlatino colleagues, Richardson believes the local committee should be disbanded until travel can resume.
Richardson queried the travel and travel spending of the Council of Ministers and wondered whether this should be revisited, cut or even if there should be a restriction placed on the executive branch of government.
MP Rolando Brison (US Party) said he had run the numbers and those show that it is cheaper to travel to Parlatino meetings than to IPKO and other meetings in the Netherlands. He wants the travel restriction to be removed and MPs to spend a year travelling, and then honestly review whether Parlatino is an added value to the country.
The battles in the meeting started not with the travel question, but with voting to appoint a new committee chairperson. The first round of voting saw a tie of three ballots each for Brison and Peterson. The six MPs, including Brison and Peterson, who are committee members took to the secret ballot a second time only to get yet another tie in votes.
The leadership of the committee was then decided by drawing “lots.” All six valid ballots were identically folded and placed into a box by committee member Wescot-Williams. The deciding ballot was plucked from the box by fellow committee member Emmanuel. The chosen chairperson was Brison, who served as the committee’s vice chairman in the previous parliamentary year.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/87310-parlatino-travel-sees-mps-go-head-to-head