THE 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.