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The Hague assumes power over St. Maarten integrity chamber

page1b213THE HAGUE--St. Maarten will not have a free hand to set up its own Integrity Chamber to investigate the handling of conflicts of interest and abuse of power by government officials. Independent supervision of proper governance will be instituted through the Kingdom Government.

The Kingdom Council of Ministers decided on Friday to start the procedure to impose a General Measure of the Kingdom Government to safeguard integrity in St. Maarten through an independent Integrity Chamber with the authority to investigate possible cases of integrity violations.

Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk confirmed this to the media after Friday's meeting of the Kingdom Council of Ministers, which was also attended by the Ministers Plenipotentiary of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten. He also informed the Dutch Parliament of the decision the same afternoon.

The General Measure of the Kingdom Government ("Algemene Maatregel van Rijksbestuur" AMvRB) for now will be based on article 51 of the Kingdom Charter, the guarantee function of the Kingdom Government, unless St. Maarten decides that it will agree to do this in consensus with the Kingdom Council of Ministers. A consensus AMvRB would be based on article 38 of the Charter.

Plasterk told reporters he preferred to establish the Integrity Chamber together with the St. Maarten Government. This has not proven possible so far, despite extensive consultation between technocrats in The Hague and Philipsburg over the last couple of weeks.

Plasterk received a letter from St. Maarten Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs on Tuesday, January 27, saying St. Maarten's government could not agree to the proposal of the Kingdom Government for an AMvRB based on consensus.

According to Plasterk, the St. Maarten Government welcomed the offer of the Dutch Government to provide the necessary (financial) assistance, but its proposal for an Integrity Chamber was presented in a format that did not safeguard this organisation's independent approach.

This has to do with the fact that in the St. Maarten proposal for a National Ordinance, the final responsibility for the Integrity Chamber would be in the hands of the St. Maarten Parliament. The Netherlands wants absolutely no political interference in the Integrity Chamber and demands that the entity must be able to operate entirely independently.

Plasterk further stated in his letter to the Dutch Parliament that during the talks to come to a joint proposal, it had become clear that St. Maarten did not sufficiently acknowledge the urgency of tackling the integrity issue. He stated that St. Maarten had not shown the self-cleaning capacity to tackle the issue "at the core" and to take up its responsibility under article 43, sub 1 of the Charter to achieve good governance.

The minister stated that the people of St. Maarten suffered most under the problem determined by two separate integrity committees last year. In addition, he said, "The systematic integrity violations weigh down on St. Maarten's reputation and ultimately they are also damaging to the entire Kingdom."

Considering the content of the integrity reports and the talks that have been held with the former and current St. Maarten Government, Plasterk stated that he was not assured that St. Maarten "at this moment had the capacity, both manpower and finances, decisiveness and a sense of urgency" to realise improvements in the area of integrity.

"The severity of the situation in St. Maarten requires the Kingdom Council of Ministers to give content to the authority of the Kingdom Government, based on article 43, sub 2, to guarantee good governance in St. Maarten. The situation forces the Kingdom Government to assume an important share in this matter," Plasterk stated.

Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) said he supported the Kingdom Government's decision. "The Netherlands has the responsibility to ensure good governance on the islands. I don't have an ounce of faith in the current generation of St. Maarten politicians. We will not allow Theo Heyliger to decide on the integrity of Theo Heyliger," he said in an invited comment.

Plasterk stated in his letter to Parliament that the draft AMvRB, accompanied by an explanation, would be relayed to the St. Maarten Government, so the latter could give its vision on the document. After that, the Kingdom Government may decide to request the Kingdom Council of State to share its view on the draft AMvRB. Plasterk told reporters it was most likely that the Kingdom Government would do so. The procedure will take a few months.

Asked whether the Integrity Chamber was part of his plan announced in early October 2014 to reinforce the Justice System in St. Maarten under the command of the Kingdom Government, Plasterk said these were two separate issues. The four Justice Ministers in the Kingdom agreed earlier this month that before March 1 they would draft a joint plan to strengthen the Justice System throughout the Dutch Caribbean.

Bag snatcher assaults, robs American tourist

MARIGOT--An American tourist received medical attention Wednesday evening after she was assaulted and robbed of her handbag in the centre of Marigot by two armed individuals on a scooter, their faces concealed by helmets.

The victim was in a group of three, who were walking back to their parked car on Rue Général de Gaulle around 9:30pm after dining in Marina Royale, when they were confronted by the assailants. One of the two thieves struck the woman over the head with his weapon before snatching the handbag and escaping on their scooter.

The group returned to the restaurant in the marina to seek help, the woman reportedly bleeding profusely.

Capitaine Sylvain Jouault said Friday investigation into the incident is continuing, but there has not been an arrest so far. He added the woman was released after having the cut on her head treated.

Arnell: ‘Youth unemployment 3 times higher than France’

MARIGOT--St. Martin's representative on the national Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESC) in Paris René Arnell said he was pleased to announce the overseas territories will be the focus of three important presentations in the Council during the early part of February, a result of work done by the delegation he is a member of.

On Tuesday, February 10, there will be a presentation of the study "Micro Financing in the Overseas Territories", with the presence of Minister Georges Pau-Langevin. This will be followed by a plenary session focusing on the island of Mayotte, the youngest Department of France. Then Wednesday, February 11, will see the presentation of the study on insertion of the youth overseas.

"Insertion and inclusion plays a vital role in the entire future development of our territories, both at the local and national levels," stated Arnell of the latter presentation. "We should be reminded that our youth unemployment rates are two to three times higher than in France, and in some territories the rate of unemployment for those less than 26 years of age exceeds 50 per cent."

He disclosed France will organize at the end of 2015 in Paris the largest global conference on climate change, with 195 countries invited. The focus will be on environmental quality, where strong measures will be made to better manage natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to better preserve and develop the planet and therefore the overseas territories, due to their geographic distribution, give France considerable leverage in this new dynamic, he indicated.

Commenting on the parallels between America's darkest day with the destruction of the twin towers and the appalling events in Paris at the beginning of the year, he said: "Today, France is attacked for its freedom of expression and diversity. In the great debates that impact our society, let us find the right answers to these global issues."

Arnell concluded by noting 2015 will be his last year serving on the national council.

"Our Board will be renewed at the end of the year, and I know I can count on you to continue the work undertaken for the recognition of our overseas territories, in particular the young Collectivité of St. Martin. The next edition of my Councillor's Journal will be dedicated to Europe and the world of business.

"The plenary sessions on the aforementioned subjects are public. Anyone, who wishes to attend them in Paris, can contact me or visit the site May I pass on my best wishes to all for good health and prosperity in 2015."

Fire Department ‘has reservations’ about joining shared dispatch centre

~Want equality-based cooperation~

PHILIPSBURG--The Fire Department has reservations about joining a shared dispatch Centre with the St. Maarten Police Force and the Ambulance Department, Minister of Justice Dennis Richardson said this week in response to a question by MP Sarah Wescot-Williams as to whether it was correct that the Fire Department will have its own dispatch, whereas the police and ambulance are said to be having theirs jointly. Wescot-Williams asked for a rationale behind this.

Richardson explained that the process of a joint Central Dispatch Unit began prior to 10-10-10. At this time, a committee was put in place to oversee this process. In August a letter of intent was signed by the Police Department, the Ambulance Department and the Fire Service to indeed work together to make this a reality.

The funds to establish this joint centre were provided by Plan Safety St. Maarten through USONA via the Ministry of Justice. The Police Force was in the process of establishing a Central Dispatch that would be housed in a single location along with other departments of the police.

"This dispatch centre is presently operational and will also be the command centre for the camera surveillance project which is currently being planned. The centre will therefore also function as the logistical information and command centre for the police force," said the Minister of Justice before adding: "As such it forms an integral part of information-guided police operations and therefore of the police organisation."

The centre is capable of servicing the Ambulance and the Fire Department as well. "The Ambulance Department is impressed by what has been achieved so far and will participate in the central dispatch centre of the police. The fire department has reservations and consultations will continue to resolve any differences," said the Minister of Justice.

Clive Richardson, Chief of the Fire Department, explained to The Daily Herald that there had been some issues about cooperation between the different parties in the past.

"In December 2014 I sat down with Peter de Witte and Carl John, and we spoke about working together. The issue of the Fire Department has always been that we believe such a project should be an equal cooperation. As it is right now, the Fire Department have had very little input in the location, the equipment used, and the decision as to who is going to run the dispatch centre.

"That does not mean the Fire Department does not want to cooperate. We are more than happy to negotiate as to how a cooperation can be achieved in which all parties are a part of this project.

"I see a lot of benefits in the Fire Department keeping its own dispatch centre, which can then work in close operation with the new dispatch centre set up by the police. That way, we are not dependent on one centre, and we have something to fall back on in case of a disaster.

"The system wouldn't have to be changed a lot to achieve this. People would call one central number, and if the call is for the Fire Department, the call could be dispatched to the Fire Department dispatcher. The only big difference for the public would be that there would just be one emergency number, 911 for all calls, instead of calling a different number for each service," he said.

Fire Chief Richardson added: "I am looking forward to an opportunity to go and see the new dispatch centre. Negotiations are ongoing."

Plasterk says no desire to steer integrity politically

THE HAGUE--The Kingdom Council of Ministers does not feel the need to steer the integrity issue in St. Maarten politically. It merely wants to prevent the safeguarding of integrity from becoming politically susceptible, said Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk on Friday.

The Kingdom Government decided on Friday to start the process for a so-called General Measure of the Kingdom Government ("Algemene Maatregel van Rijksbestuur" AMvRB) to establish an Integrity Chamber in St. Maarten. (See related article.)

The exercise to restore and safeguard integrity in St. Maarten requires a truly independent entity, one that is completely free of political influence. This is especially important in a small community like St. Maarten.

"Integrity is always more complicated in a small community. We need to set the Integrity Chamber at some distance from government, so it can do its work free of any political influence," Plasterk said. This means that, contrary to what St. Maarten wants, the St. Maarten Parliament cannot have the final say on matters concerning the Integrity Chamber, in Plasterk's opinion.

The integrity reports prepared last year by two independent committees confirmed that conflicts of interest and abuse of power happened throughout the St. Maarten Government.

"The conclusions were harsh. Things are not in order, aspects that are affecting government. It becomes impossible to tackle this when the St. Maarten Parliament can decide whether the actions by the Integrity Chamber are inadequate," said Plasterk.

The Integrity Chamber, which would consist of independent persons with expertise in different backgrounds, would be able to carry out investigations in suspected cases of, for example, conflict of interest situations or abuse of power. This includes the gathering of information and interviewing people. The information may be turned over to the local Prosecutor's Office if the case in question requires follow-up.

According to Plasterk, St. Maarten has insufficiently proven that it is capable and willing to truly tackle the integrity issue. He said the reports by the Wit-Samson Committee and the Oosting Committee/PricewaterhouseCoopers were six months old and the St. Maarten Government had not taken "acute action," but merely some cosmetic decisions to "save reputation." "That is not the way to go about it. This issue requires a solid solution," he said.

An independent Integrity Chamber is in the best interest of the people of St. Maarten, but also of the Dutch Kingdom. "It is unacceptable to have the current situation continue. It is not good for the people in St. Maarten and it casts a bad light on the Kingdom," he said. He added that bad decisions in government resulted in the wasting of public funds for which the people ultimately had to foot the bill.

The minister again stated, as he did in an interview with this newspaper last week, that he preferred to reach a joint solution with St. Maarten. He said the National Ordinance St. Maarten had prepared to establish the Integrity Chamber contained some "very good and well-thought-out elements" that were certainly worth considering.

Plasterk denied that the imposing of an AMvRB on St. Maarten undermined the country's autonomy. "I hope to convince people that the autonomy of the Netherlands is also not undermined when our Minister of Finance has to reduce the budget deficit on the order of Brussels [the European Union – Ed.]. It doesn't mean that you give away your autonomy. To the contrary, it only serves to strengthen you as a country," he said in an interview with The Daily Herald and the Volkskrant newspaper.

"I hope that integrity in government becomes part of the public domain, a way of thinking. The most important thing is to tackle this issue. The point of departure is to prevent integrity violations from reoccurring. I don't have another motive than to do the right thing for St. Maarten."

Plasterk said he was under the impression that St. Maarten Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs was also keen to solve this matter. He said he had been in contact with Gumbs up to Thursday and there had been a lot of contact between the technocrats in Philipsburg and The Hague. Plasterk said the Netherlands would be investing several millions in the integrity trajectory. "Quite a substantial investment."

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