Great Bay – The Central Committee meeting to debate the draft law to amend Budget 2018 for a second time and the draft law Budget 2019, both binding laws requiring Parliament’s approval, which were scheduled to take place on Thursday 28 November, 2018 was postponed late Wednesday afternoon allegedly upon request of the Minister according to Chairlady Wescot-Williams. Leader of the National Alliance faction, Member of Parliament (MP) Silveria Jacobs, has observed the entirely disappointing process of scheduling unfold once more with utter disbelief at the blatant disrespect to the Parliament of St. Maarten.
Documents pertaining to the two budget Ordinances (2nd amendment 2018, budget 2019) were delivered in a highly illegible state in hard copy, in the midst of a busy meeting week, last week. On Friday 23 November, 2018 the same documents were sent to members digitally.
“The developments over this last week again leaves me totally disappointed in how meetings are being scheduled, and convened. It appears to be that Parliament is here to serve government and not that Parliament holds government accountable to live up to its obligations to the people,” stated MP Jacobs.
On Monday 26 November, 2018, MP Brison, of the United St. Maarten Party (USP), sent a letter to the Chairlady of Parliament, requesting missing documents, more legible, searchable data, and highlighted the short span of time afforded us to prepare, as per usual, and therefore requested more time.
On Tuesday 27 November, 2108, MP Jacobs sent a letter reiterating similar challenges, noting on that same day the English versions, better legible versions as well as missing documents had been received. This is a mere two days before the scheduled meeting, prompting her to request a postponement to allow for proper preparation. The budget discussions are the most intense and some of the most important meetings of Parliament and comes as the highlight of the year whereby Parliament can hold Government accountable across the board for the policies, spending and collecting of the countries funds in an effective and efficient manner.
On Wednesday 28 November, 2018, even more documentation was provided, and a message from the Chairlady stated that the meeting may be postponed upon the request of the minister who is apparently also off island. Later that day, around 5 PM, an official letter on behalf of the Finance Minister confirmed such.
The announcement to the civil service that the CoM will be on recess, from December 24, 2018 till January 8, 2019, and that all documents requiring decision had to be dealt with on December 18, latest also came as a surprise, appears irresponsible and could be one of the reasons that government is speeding up the process. It, however, leaves one to wonder: “How indeed is this country running?”
“Will civil servants who have been working straight through since the passing of hurricane Irma, also get a Christmas break, or will the ‘Dienst’ not allow for such?”, asked MP Jacobs. Other challenges such of persons moving around within Civil service has caused great deficits for some already understaffed departments throughout government, thereby placing a heavier burden on those left behind and increasing chances for burnout.
Whatever the reasons, Parliament should be allotted enough time to prepare for the budget debates and not just act like a “rubber stamp.” Enough preparation time for MPs to be able to analyze the budget must be given and the scheduling of meetings are to reflect this as well. Or does this Government, with the support of the eight in Parliament, have something to hide?