That members of parliament at times grossly misunderstand the role they have to play in our parliamentary democracy became once more apparent from a press release issued by the united People’s party. Three MPs held what they labeled ‘preliminary talks’ with representatives of a hospital in Florida.
The purpose of these talks – and the press release - is without any doubt to create confusion about the construction of the new hospital.
What were these parliamentarians doing in Florida? On whose behalf were they talking with some medicine men in the US of A? Did Minister Emil Lee send this delegation? (We didn’t ask him, but we’re sure that this is not the case). What then is the status of three citizens from St. Maarten who spent their free time on a trip to America and on talking to doctors and visiting hospitals, as if they were tourists on a medical binge?
Our democratic system is based on the trias politica – the separation of powers. We have the legislative branch (the parliament), the executive branch (the Council of Ministers) and the judicial branch.
The term legislative branch contains a clue nobody can miss: if you’re part of it, you legislate; you don’t execute. And yet, this is what the three MPs – Theo Heyliger, Cornelius de Weever and Dr. Lloyd Richardson did.
Was this a business trip paid from the parliament’s travel budget? Did they pay this from their own pockets? Or did they accept free tickets from an American hospital organization eager to do business on the Friendly Island?
We don’t know the answers to these questions, but there is nothing wrong with wondering about these issues.
MP Cornelius de Weever – who is harboring a lifelong grudge against Public Health Minister Emil Lee for reasons only he understands – stands out in the press release the UP sent out about its Florida hospital tour. Look at this line from the press release: “MP De Weever, who is also a medical professional, looked into the needs from a ministerial perspective to develop a solid relationship with the hospital group.”
The key term in this sentence is not medical professional even though this seems to be the wrong claim form someone who actually is a professional politician.
No, the key term is ‘ministerial perspective.’
MP De Weever is a lone, independent member of parliament who will make another run for office in the September elections as a member of the United People’s party. But apparently he already behaves as if he is in the seat of the minister of public health. At least, that is the smell that arises from the press release.
And now De Weever, Richardson and Heyliger want to “develop a solid relationship with the hospital group.” The question is: who is the other partner in this dance? It cannot be country St. Maarten because individual members of parliament do not have the authority to negotiate anything on behalf of the country – certainly not without authorization from the government.
Even if – and we emphasize the word if – the parliament had authorized the three medical musketeers to make this trip – the best they could have done was gather information, present a report about their trip to parliament and ask via a motion to bring this to the attention of the relevant minister.
Maybe the three have found some obscure rule we’re not aware of that gives them the authority to do what they did. But if that rule exists, it is wrong and ought to be abolished.
Why? Because members of the legislative branch legislate; they don’t execute. Looking back over the past almost six years since 10-10-10 it is legitimate to ask the question how often these MPs have actually legislated anything.
Classic example: the motion to legislate the ban on the single use plastic grocery bags came (also) from a member of the United People’s party. That was four years ago. Do we have the ban? Do we have the legislation?
Of course we don’t. That’s because MPs are too busy traveling to faraway places to make deals for their own benefit. Indeed, this is not limited to one faction in parliament, it would be unfair to even make that suggestion.
Remember that press conference Romain Laville gave on March 26, 2014? Laville, former faction-leader of the UP and in 2014 an independent member of parliament, presented a memorandum of understanding between the government of St. Maarten and the Commonwealth of Dominica. The Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs, Ted Richardson, sat as a sidekick next to Laville during the press conference and never uttered a word.
Again, this is an example where a member of the legislative branch stepped into the shoes of the executive branch.
The memorandum required the approval of the Council of Ministers – and never got it.
The memorandum contained a “tentative deal” (in other words, nothing was certain) to piggyback on Dominica’s deal with Venezuela’s Petro Caribe Agreement that would have made cooking gas on the island much cheaper. What Laville did not say is that this good-looking deal would have bound St. Maarten to a loan for the price difference. The country would pay a percentage of the real cost up front and pay off the balance over a period of 25 years at a 1 percent interest rate. This way, Jamaica had built up a debt of $2.5 billion to Venezuela in 2014, while the debts of many other Caribbean countries run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars..
The memorandum also boasted five scholarships for St. Maarten students, but it turned out later on that these scholarships did not exist.
Two years earlier, Laville was however on the legislative bandwagon when he announced that he would submit a draft law regulating pawn shops and cash for gold businesses. A good initiative, but it never came to anything. And yet, these are the kinds of initiatives members of parliament ought to pursue if the executive branch does not come up with its own legislation.
Making deal with hospitals in other countries, or even suggesting the possibility of a deal, is not part of the job description for any member of parliament.