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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Our Legislators, Can They Improve?

Dear Source,
It is unfortunate that our legislators have failed to properly assume their statutory functions. The 25th Legislature proved that it is not the age of the individual nor their academic achievements that makes for a good representative, an effective legislator. In the 25th Legislature the average age of the senators I believe was about 40 years of age. There have been a cry for allowing more young people an opportunity to serve in government because they will bring new ideas and be more progressive. That have not been the case with those in the legislature, the younger legislators followed the practices of their older colleagues. The 26th. Legislature is now seated, would they be any better than the 25th?
Many entertained the hope that by putting some younger persons in the Senate it would break the cycle of ineffectiveness and demagoguery. Unfortunately for the people of the Virgin Islands, we are experiencing the same pattern of performance we have witnessed over the years. The candidates prior to election preaches reform and other idealistic goals but when they succeed in gaining a seat in the legislature they appear to forget their pre-election promises and stated goals. Their attitude also change, they are not receptive to suggestions from the public, from their constituents. They lack humility. They hire unqualified staff that apparently are not trained for the assignments they are given. They fail to do proper research to do an effective job. They submit bills with a lot of flaws and duplications.
The senators staffs fails to represent and protect the image of their boss. I believe it is due to lack of training, usually. The senators do not realize that the more professional and efficient their staff is it reflects on their own effectiveness and reputation as representatives of the people. When staff members do not know what bills their own senators sponsors or a chief of staff that does not acknowledge receipt of communication from the public on behalf of their senator, allowing correspondence to go answered does not do the senator any good. I believe the senator's staff main interest is to make the senator look good in the eyes of the public.
The role of a senator as I understand it is to legislate and to exercise oversight over the other two branches of government. But unfortunately the people who we have been electing to the Senate have been concentrating on the legislative function more than the oversight function which in my view is more critical to the proper functioning of government. When the senators do attempt to exercise oversight, individual senators attempt to micro manage the functions of the executive branch. The oversight responsibilities of the Senate is to be exercised through the committee system of the Senate, not individual senators attempting to micro manage functions of the executive branch of government, acting as "super commissioners". The organization of the legislature is inherently flawed, when the majority faction of the legislature deprive the minority faction of the resources and opportunity to contribute effectively to the functions of the legislature. Selfishness, grandstanding and demagoguery seems to be endemic in the Senate.
I believe if the senators were to mature to the level where they would respect themselves and each other the body would be more effective. If the senators would distribute resources and assignments fairly according to the interest and background of each senator rather than the ego of individual senators, the institution of the first branch of government would more effective and respected. Maybe we could even discover some statesman qualities in some of them.
Can we expect improvement in our legislature? We can intensify the dialogue on improving our government, all three branches of our government. We should keep in mind that the government is made up of three branches, not just the executive branch. Those who serve in those branches represent the people, who should be diligent in monitoring the performance of these representatives, these public servants. Since we elect representative only to the executive and legislative branches of government we have to be careful in our selection. We need to check the candidates background not their promises to get an idea on their potential ability to meet our expectation. We need persons with knowledge, integrity and courage to be good representatives. The choice is ours, the electors, it is people power, our power to choose our government. Let us be diligent in our choices in our selection and election of representative, not leaders. True leaders have followers not cheering squads.
Jorge J. Estemac
St. Thomas

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