Arrindell reflects on first 100 days of parliament’s operationPOSTED: 01/19/11 11:31 AM
St. Maarten / By Donellis Browne – President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell has called the first 100 days of Parliament’s “a unique opportunity and a challenge” that has taught her to “be strong and stay focused.” The particular circumstance of starting from scratch and building up the infrastructure are the source of those lessons. It is also based on a firm desire to protect parliamentary democracy.
“I am excited by the prospects but 100 days in the life of a parliament is so little. It is just the beginning. This is a function where you get to decide on the quality of people’s lives and sometimes what we do is not perfect, but what’s the alternative,” Arrindell said.
St. Maarten’s Parliament took office on October 10, 2010, at the dawn of country status. A one day break followed and then on October 12, she walked over to the “old Parliament Building and began to squat” immediately after hearing it was empty. That choice was made because the new Parliament Building was not ready. An official letter was sent soon after to inform the prime minister of the move. The search for staff was also started immediately.
“I was ready to roll from the first day, but I was put in a position where I had to be practical and I saw having to find offices and a meeting space as part of the challenge,” Arrindell said.
With no staff and no meeting place Arrindell had to press forward anyway. She set about crafting the agenda, opened the solicitation for permanent staff, started the process to appoint committees of Parliament and asking the question of whether or not St. Maarten’s Parliament was ready to join Parlatino. She also pressed forward during the first 100 days with establishing the Presidium of Parliament and with the handling of the budget and the amendment to the Turnover Tax that will raise it from three percent to five percent.
“It was challenging and I was completely aware that a lot of things had to be done while we were being confronted with a lot of issues I had to maintain a clear vision. In the beginning we expected that there would be some things that did not go smoothly. We try to avoid those when we can, but we live with the reality we do have the full staff complement of 10 people. We’re solving that now by going through the solicitation and we should not see a repeat once the office is fully staffed,” Arrindell said.
As part of her function Arindell chairs the Presidium of Parliament which consists of the chair and vice chairs. At the moment she’s working with Petrus Leroy de Weever and Patrick Illidge, who are 1st and 2nd Vice President. Their task for setting the tone and creating proposals that is given to the Presidium is found in the Rules of Order. Arrindell has, on occasion, expanded the leadership meeting to include representatives of the opposition in a faction leader’s caucus so she can get broad support on particular issues. This gathering is a tradition left over from the Parliament of the Netherlands Antilles and is not taken up in the rules of order, which are currently under review.
“We have a very positive working relationship in the Presidium. We can openly sit and discuss the issues and the support is there,” the president of parliament said.
“Our vision is to have the social agenda of the government, more officially referred to as the governing program, as soon as possible. Then Parliament can begin the task of dividing it into legislation where necessary,” Arrindell said.
Government handing over the program is considered a key point for the early days of the relationship between the two levels. A key place for talks will be the various committees of Parliament.
Arrindell is also looking for a good relationship with Governor Eugene Holiday. The pair have already met over lunch and hope, within short to establish a regular meeting schedule.
“Our regular meetings will allow the governor to hear firsthand what the issues and challenges are from the horse’s mouth,” Arrindell said.
Arrindell also wants to reach out to her colleagues in the Kingdom so that networking can take place and ideas can be shared. She’s especially interested in crafting a relationship with Curacao and Aruba because the islands share a Civil Code.
“We’ll have to cooperate. Some laws are concordant and there must be synchronization,” Arrindell said.
Those relationships will be hammered out over the weeks and months to come.
There’s also a desire to get closer to the parliaments in the region. This contact will begin with an initiative for a meeting with female parliamentary chairs. A first step was taken in that direction when Arrindell met Dominica’s Speaker of the House of Assembly late in 2010.
Arrindell sees a bright future for parliament and has called on the 14 other MPs to join her in focusing on the bigger picture of tackling key issues like high cost of living, safety and quality of service. She also wants to reach out the nation’s high schools and plans to visit exam classes – one per week – to explain the role and function of parliament.
Women in authority
It is note worthy that both the prime minister and president of parliament in the country’s first cabinet and parliament are women. It continues a trend of women being in key functions. In this case there are three women in parliament and one in the Cabinet – it was two when the 100 days started. However Arrindell believes that not enough women are sitting in key positions and has urged more of the nation’s women to consider politics.
“Women make up roughly 50 percent of our community and that should be reflected in our key leadership positions. I hope my term will be a positive contribution for young women and inspire them to become members of the legislature and the executive branch of government. I am really honored and aware of my position and it makes me want to reflect that young girls and women can occupy such a position of responsibility. I will do my best not to let the people of St. Maarten down,” the president of parliament said.