Island Opinions

Island Opinions (729)

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Sint Maarten has probably made it in the Guinness Book of world records for having four integrity reports, within a period of fifteen months, written about the rampant corruption in government. These reports led to the writing of legislation to establish an Integrity Chamber. Sadly, after three years, four reports, and aborted integrity legislation, Sint Maarten still finds itself in a quagmire of corruption. As we write, several cases of corruption are being investigated by the prosecutor’s office such as, immigration fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. In addition, our own General Audit Chamber has reported on the serious lack of transparency and integrity with regard to the appointments of directors and supervisory board members of government-owned companies and foundations. Furthermore, the Ombudsman in its annual reports has also referred to the lack of transparency and openness in government. And, I am certain that if the Integrity Chamber were established and functional many more corruption cases would be brought to light.

Of course, corruption is not only limited to Sint Maarten but is rampant worldwide and considered a moral cancer in every society. It is therefore the duty of every country and the responsibility of every parliament and the obligation of every government to put mechanisms in place to root out this moral cancer in society. It goes without saying that our parliament must set the example by, establishing a Code of Ethics for parliamentarians. Conversely, if government began to uphold its own laws and enforce existing laws, Sint Maarten would be able to reduce corruption considerably throughout the civil force and in society.

Corruption is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. To get a clearer understanding of corruption, Transparency International, in its publication entitled “Anti-Corruption Plain Language Guide”, subdivided corruption into three broad categories namely grand corruption, petty corruption and political corruption. Words that come to mind when discussing corruption are money laundering, bribery, extortion or blackmail, nepotism, cronyism, patronage, favoritism, dishonesty, unfairness, gift giving, kickbacks, lack of accountability, integrity and transparency.

Transparency is about being open and shedding light on rules, plans, processes and actions. According to the National Integrity Action Organization in Jamaica, transparency is “knowing why, how, what, and how much. Transparency ensures that public officials, civil servants and board members act visibly and understandably, and report on their activities. And, it means that the general public can hold them to account. It is the surest way of guarding against corruption”. Based on the above explanation it is safe to conclude that there is definitely a lack of transparency in government in Sint Maarten.

In all of its reports, the General Audit Chamber has made reference to a serious lack of transparency and integrity in government. In other words, there is clear evidence of corruption in government. In its most recent report, entitled “Administrative Appointments Part-2, an audit into the legitimacy and integrity of administrative appointments of directors”, issued July 2017, the Chamber, once again, made mention of the lack of transparency by stating that “the lack of transparency and the associated lack of integrity regarding the appointment of directors, is worrisome”. The Chamber also clearly advised Parliament to call the minister, responsible for the lack of transparency, to account. In other words, Parliament is the entity that has the ultimate responsibility to deal with corruption in government.

During its first administrative audit, between 2014 - 2015, the Chamber mentioned that, of the 44 appointments to supervisory boards of government-owned companies and foundations, only 22 (50%) complied with the rule to have an advice from the Corporate Governance Council. Between 2015 and May 2017, when the Chamber checked into the appointments of directors of government-owned companies and foundations it found that, of a total of 23 appointments, only one appointment was done in accordance with the rules and in keeping with the principles of transparency. Mind you, only ONE!! This means that our honorable ministers themselves are guilty of breaking the law, when it comes to the appointments of directors and supervisory board members of government-owned companies and foundations.

We still can recall a few of the controversial appointments that made headlines such as the appointment of the supervisory board members of GEBE as well the appointments of the directors of TELEM, the Tourism Department and GEBE. It is sad to note that Parliament has never raised a question concerning the various appointments mentioned in the reports issued by the Chamber. Neither has Parliament raised a single question concerning the most recent appointment of the brother of the Minister of TEATT as Director of the Princess Juliana International Airport Holding Company. We were told that because of family ties the Minister of TEATT abstained from voting on this issue in the Council of Ministers. This was done to avoid the appearance of a form of corruption called nepotism. However, this does not absolve the Minister from nepotism, because the way the relationship between government and government-owned companies is structured a Minister is the share-holder representative and as such the Minister of TEATT is responsible for the airport and her brother is accountable to her.

Regrettably, with all the evidence available of corruption in government, Parliament has remained mum on the issue, whereas it is Parliament’s obligation to ensure that the various appointments occur, according to the rules and legal procedures, in an open and transparent manner.

COLE BAY, St. Maarten - I enjoy drinking beer. Nothing beats coming up from a dive doing research in the Marine Park or after a long day in the office, ordering an ice-cold beer, and downing it in just a few swallows. I also enjoy beer because it is in my genes, with my father being Belgian I have no choice, and I enjoy the complexity of flavors, the variety, the history and the camaraderie that goes into having a few beers with friends. I do not enjoy the headache the following morning when a few turns in to too many.

Unfortunately, on Sint Maarten, this enjoyment of beer is not guilt free, and by having a cold one after working in the sun for a long time I am contributing to the growing environmental issues on Sint Maarten.

With every cold brew I, and my fellow beer drinkers both resident and visiting, and there are a lot of us, am helping to compound the solid waste issue already critical on the island. Every year tons of glass from beer bottles, and other bottles not to mention, are being dumped on our landfill, growing it in size and contributing to the environmental impact it is having on our nature as well as the health issues it causes to our population. Unrecycled and untreated glass causes harm to wildlife as well as helps with the famous fires on the Philipsburg Landfill, the glass refracting and magnifying the sun and contributing to setting the dump on fire.

We are a tourism destination and some estimates suggest that during the peak of high-season, including on a day when there are numerous ship in port and considering some of the waste from the French Side being dumped on the Dutch Side (which is ironic since they do recycle glass) some half a ton of empty beer bottles are deposited on the landfill alone. This again highlights what the Nature Foundation and other environmental organizations have been calling for so long; a government supported and subsidized recycle program which makes sorting and recycling garbage mandatory. The two voluntary recycling bins in two neighborhoods are simply not enough.

The solution is not difficult, and we may have to partner with our neighboring islands to find it, but we need to do what we can to solve our issues on the island and not be lulled into the dangerous complacency that so often affects us.

And I look forward to that one day, on our island gem in the Caribbean sea, drinking an ice-cold beer completely guilt free and with the knowledge that I am not contributing to the environmental challenges of Sint Maarten.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - It is nine in the morning and a purple dawn is rising with difficulty in the east while a strong ice-wind is blowing over the cold North Sea to the west. It is February 2008 and I am standing with fifty of my fellow Master students at the Volgermeer Polder, a former toxic waste dump for the city of Amsterdam. In front of us two million square meters of garbage and dangerous chemicals are being transformed into a natural reserve by engineers contracted by the city of Amsterdam. My professor, Dr. Joyeeta Gupta –a Nobel Prize Laureate- lectures on the process of changing a national health hazard into a viable natural reserve.

While listening to Dr Gupta speak I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Volgermeer and our Landfill back home on St. Maarten. The Volgermeer polder, which is approximately ten kilometers north of Amsterdam, is an area of land saturated with dykes and streams and lakes. It used to be a peat farm, the peat used to warm beautiful Amsterdam throughout its history. At about the turn of the last century the city decided to get rid of its garbage at the polder, ferrying in mass amounts of waste on garbage boats and dumping it in the lakes and bogs which dot the area. As Amsterdam grew in size so did their garbage and soon the dump spread to immense dimensions. The area was plagued by fires caused by escaping gas and the residents in the area started to complain about their health: strange infections, respitory problems and diseases caused by the lowering of their immune systems. All of this sounded eerily familiar.

The city of Amsterdam closed the area in the eighties and sent teams of scientist to monitor and take samples of the soil and water. They soon found that dangerous chemicals that leaked into the soil and groundwater, chemicals such as Agent Orange, famous for being used in the Vietnam war, and PCBs –a pesticide that causes deformities in both animals and humans.

As we started our tour of the area a representative of the company that was involved in the project started to explain the process by which a waste dump was transformed into a nature reserve. The streams and lakes that are a part of the polder were dredged and the silt used to cover the dump to about two meters high. The city of Amsterdam also provided soil from its various building projects to cover the dump and a special layer of plastic-like organic material was placed on top, a process called natural capping. This material, which is widely used and quite inexpensive, allows for the gasses and fumes to escape while preventing further contamination to the area. On top of this layer peat moss and grasses were planted which eventually dissolved the garbage under it and in a few short years a viable ecosystem started to develop with clean water with fish and frogs and swans and ducks.

I started to think that perhaps this may be a solution for us here as well. Even with some of the advances that Sint Maarten has had regarding conservation in the last four years there are still three issues which blemish our reputation in terms of environmental protection. One is the need for a terrestrial park to protect and conserve our land-based flora and fauna; the second is the continued challenges faced by our wetlands; and the third, and this is by far the issue of most concern both for the health of our environment and that of our population, is the Dump.

With the amount of chemicals and garbage entering into our soil, wetlands and into our lungs when the dump is on fire we need to address the issue of the landfill yesterday. The heavy metals and other pollutants present on the Dump and the surrounding area are a national health hazard.  A waste-to-energy plant is good and very necessary to mine the current landfill. But why not make it better? A waste-to-energy plant combined with a complete rehabilitation of the area, including that of the Great Salt Pond, which is the reason why Sint Maarten, our Soualiga, exists in the first place. If the Pond is dredged and the silt used, if the tons of soil from all of the projects current and planned are used to realize a sustainable solution for one of the most embarrassing scars on our island, then yes we will be at the vanguard of forward green thinking in this region. For it is only when we solve the issue of a landfill in our capital and in our natural and national heritage, can we speak of sustainability.

I remember the tour being over and having to return to my tiny apartment in the city to prepare for the next day’s class. I remember how hard it was for me to focus because I couldn’t help but think how useful this would be for my home. Imagine a green park with paths and fountains and bird-watching blinds and swings for children where garbage once stank in the blazing sun and where flies and midges once made life miserable. Imagine it being the centre of the capital of a new St. Maarten; the fact that it was a dump a vague and unpleasant memory, like the memory of the taste of aloes on our sucking-thumbs as children. Imagine the Salt Pond, the cradle of our society, gently lapping at clean green shores. Imagine our grandchildren, students at our university, being lectured on how a dump was turned into a natural reserve. Imagine the lecturer, one of our children, winning the Nobel Prize for Science. Anything is possible under the Caribbean sun.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Today, two months after the new Council of Ministers was sworn in, we still do not have a Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic and Telecommunication (TEATT). The blame for this has been placed on the vetting or screening process. However, in truth and in fact, the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of our parliament.

Now, the USP will have to present another candidate minister and the screening process will start all over again. We trust that it does not take another two months. Who is to tell, though, if this candidate will pass the screening, which is shrouded in a cloak of mystery! With the exception of the Governor and the Prime Minister, no one else seems to know, for sure, what exactly the criteria are for the screening of candidate ministers. We expect the Prime Minister to be transparent about this issue and to enlighten the candidate ministers, the political parties and the general public about the screening criteria, the procedures and how the final decision is made to pass or fail a candidate minister. SMCP believes that the screening criteria should be clearly established up front and that political parties should be aware of these before submitting the name(s) of their candidate minister(s) to the Formateur.

The obscurity as well as the insecurity surrounding the whole screening process could have been avoided, if parliament had taken the bull by the horns and dealt with the law pertaining to the screening some years ago. Take Curacao for example. Shortly after 10-10- 10, the Parliament of Curacao annulled their original screening ordinance and passed a revised one, in 2012. Nearly seven years after 10-10- 10, Sint Maarten is still using the original 10-10- 10 screening ordinance which is apparently outdated and full of flaws.

St. Maarten has a very short history, as far as vetting or screening of candidate ministers is concerned. It is unfortunate that the first three governments of Country Sint Maarten never underwent any serious screening. In its Integrity Report of 2014, the Bob Wit Committee clearly pointed out that the screening was a mess and even stated that the then Prime Minister as well as the Ministers were in violation of the law and could be 2 sentenced to a maximum of three years imprisonment. Seeing that governments were forming and falling so frequently, the Kingdom Government felt that they should step in to ensure, the much needed integrity in the government of Sint Maarten. Consequently, prior to the formation of the fourth government in 2014, the Kingdom Government issued a directive, instructing the Governor, to ensure that the screening of candidate ministers be done in a thorough manner. I believe that, if the Sint Maarten Government and Parliament had taken the screening process seriously from the beginning, there would have been absolutely no reason for the Kingdom Government to step in.

Almost seven years after 10-10- 10, Sint Maarten’s parliamentarians are still complaining about the screening, when all the while it was up to them to do something about it. Finally, after five years, a draft of the screening law, entitled “Ordinance Regulating the Integrity of (candidate) Ministers”, was officially submitted to Parliament, on January 20 th 2016, by then Member of Parliament, Dr. Van Hugh Cornelius de Weever. If parliamentarians were really concerned or dissatisfied with the screening, they would have been more zealous in seeing this law move from the Ad Hoc Committee of Integrity to the Central Committee and finally to the Public meeting where it would have been approved. It is good to note that when this ordinance was submitted, the members of the Ad Hoc Integrity Committee were: Sarah Wescott-Williams, George Pantophlet, Cornelius de Weever, Leona Marlin-Romeo, Frans Richardson, Maurice Lake, Franklyn Myers and Silvio Matser, who did not attend any of the three meetings that the Committee held. Regrettably, neither the Committee members nor the other parliamentarians did anything with the draft ordinance. They just sat on it and allowed it to accumulate dust. SMCP calls on parliament to handle this draft ordinance as soon as possible and ensure that it is transparent and fair to all concerned.

The next ordinance that Parliament should deal with immediately is the Ordinance Regulating the Integrity of Parliamentarians. The Bob Wit Integrity Committee also seriously questioned the integrity of our parliamentarians and made very pointed recommendations such as: establishing a code of ethics, making public all paid and unpaid side jobs, setting up a public registry to record all gifts accepted by parliamentarians, determining whether side jobs are permissible and if so reducing the salaries accordingly. The report also calls for parliamentarians to declare their assets, before and after taking office, as well as for the establishment of an Integrity Committee.

If parliament had followed up on the recommendations in Bob Wit’s Integrity Report, the screening of candidate Ministers would not be a big issue today and the integrity level within parliament would have been higher. SMCP is expecting parliament to work on these two ordinances as soon as possible.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - One of the things we must give our Members of Parliament credit for is the large number of motions presented to and passed by Parliament. Since 2010, seventy-five motions were submitted, 22 were rejected and 53 were passed, according to the 2015/2016 Annual Report of Parliament. All in all, not bad for a young legislative body! Does the activity of presenting, discussing, rejecting or passing motions tell us something about the work of parliament? Yes, it does. It tells us that a lot of energy is put into writing, discussing and passing motions in vain. In other words, if no action ensues from all this activity, then our parliamentarians are engaging in an exercise of futility and in the process, they are wasting precious tax-payers’ money.

What is a motion? It is merely a petition, asking government to take action on a matter of concern to the parliament. However, if that petition is not a matter of concern for government at that time, then the motion is shelved and never executed. It seems to me that motions, submitted and passed in our parliament, only give the impression that our parliamentarians are working. But, if we follow the motion-trail, we will see that the majority of those motions go no further than the hall of parliament.

Unfortunately, this has been the fate of most of the 53 motions that our parliament has passed. What happened to the motion that was passed, three years ago, (January 16th 2014) that requested government to explore the possibility of acquiring land in Middle Region, to build a Community Center? And what happened to the motion passed on December 3rd 2013, requesting the Minister of Health Care, Social Development and Labor to carry out a survey to determine the level of a “living wage” for Sint Maarten and to report back to Parliament within sixty days? Unfortunately, sixty days have turned into more than 3 years and the living wage has not yet been determined. What happened to the motion, passed on March 17th 2016, requesting the Minister of General Affairs to prepare and submit a plan regarding mandatory services for youngster ages 18 through 25? This motioned was to go into effect as of January, 2017. We are now in February 2017 and to this day no plan has been submitted to Parliament. What about the motion banning the use of plastic bags? What about the motions passed in 2013, concerning the protection and preservation of our national/cultural heritage such as Fort Amsterdam and Mullet Pond? On October 22nd 2014, parliament passed a motion, instructing government to set up a Committee to study, evaluate, and recommend an action plan, based on findings and recommendations of the various integrity reports. Unfortunately, no time frame was given. We are now almost 1000 days further and Parliament has not yet received the Plan of Action.

Had Parliament followed-up on this motion, we would not have had the recent integrity chamber and quartermaster dispute between Sint Maarten and the Dutch Minister of Home and Interior Affairs. The deadlines for action on all these motions have quietly passed and there has been no action by Government and no follow-up by parliament. These are just a few examples, of how parliament passes motions that yield no results whatsoever. Regrettably, members of parliament never follow up or call out a minister or the government, on their blatant refusal to execute parliament’s motions.

So far, the only motions that parliament follows up on, are motions of non-confidence. It is amazing how quickly parliament ensures that these motions are expedited yet takes on a nonchalant and laissez-faire approach towards all the other motions.

Our parliamentarians really need to reconsider the issue of passing motions. They should make sure that the motions that they pass yield results. They should ensure that each motion answers the basic questions of who, what, why, when, where and how? Most of the time the answer to one of these questions is missing, especially the answer to when. Most motions do not have a time line or a target date, which is crucial, if parliamentarians intend to follow-up on their motions. If the date passes and a minister or government has not complied with the motion, then parliament should send reminders. If this does not work, then the minister or the government should be called to parliament to give an account. Failure to do so can lead up to a motion of non-confidence in the minister or the government. This is how parliament and individual parliamentarians should carry out their supervisory or controlling function over government. It is time that parliamentarians become proactive and make demands on government.

What about all the motions passed in parliament? Well, they are worthless if parliament does not follow up to ensure that they are executed. We trust that parliament will start doing its job!

Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - All factions of the St. Maarten Parliament supported a motion that was submitted to the House on Monday January 30th 2017, during a plenary session. The meeting was called to discuss the appointment of a quartermaster for the Integrity Chamber by the Dutch Government. During the deliberations it became clear that the validity of the Protocol that was signed between Minister of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations and the Minister of Justice of St. Maarten in May of 2015 became questionable. What was also clarified at least to me was that, the protocol document that was established by the two aforementioned Ministers was contingent on an ordinance that was to be voted into law. The ordinance or law was to regulate or institute an Integrity Chamber for St. Maarten.

The third point disclosed by government was that the drafting of the Integrity Chamber law received input and support from the Dutch government. This draft ordinance was debated in the St. Maarten Parliament and subsequently passed by a majority vote in 2015.

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Recently, Parliament held a meeting to discuss the appointment of a quartermaster for the Integrity Chamber by the Dutch Government. Most Parliamentarians, however, overlooked the fact that the discussion had to be focused on the process, the procedure, the legality and the validity of said appointment. With the exception of MP Sarah Wescot-Williams, parliamentarians and members of government spoke more about the Integrity Chamber. It was also very sad to observe that half of the MPs present had absolutely nothing to say about the appointment neither about the Integrity Chamber.

All the speakers practically agreed that breaches of integrity are common in Sint Maarten. And actually, the same can also be said of all countries. Each year, a list of countries is issued by Transparency International (TI), showing how each country ranks and scores as far as corruption is concerned. In 2016, TI investigated 176 countries and not one of them came close to a perfect score.

The highest score of 90 percent went to Denmark and Zealand. The Netherlands scored 83 percent and ranked as the 8th least corrupt country. During the parliamentary debates, it was said that the Dutch wanted to impose an Integrity Chamber on Sint Maarten, while they do not even have one themselves. Although the Netherlands may not have an Integrity Chamber, it has two institutions that tackle integrity issues in government.

Being a member of the GRECO (Group of States against Corruption), the Dutch government submits annual integrity reports to this European Union Entity. Furthermore, each municipality in the Netherlands has a B.I. (Bureau Integriteit or Integrity Office) which falls under BING (Bureau Integriteit Nederlandse Gemeenten). Albeit, even if the Netherlands did not have these two bodies, this does not justify Sint Maarten not having one!

An Integrity Chamber is considered the watch dog in a country that guards against all integrity breaches. Currently, the highest integrity body in Sint Maarten, is our Parliament, which has done a bad job at dealing with integrity issues, since its inception in 2010. Unfortunately, Parliament, in many instances during the past six years, succumbed to numerous integrity breaches itself.

On October 22nd 2014, Parliament passed a motion, instructing Government to establish a committee to review the findings of three integrity reports and to come up with a budget and a timeline. It is two years later and Parliament has heard nothing yet from this committee. Conversely, Parliament has also neglected, to follow up on the instructions given to government, two years ago.

Furthermore, in 2015, Parliament established an Ad Hoc Committee of Integrity which tried to establish a code of conduct for parliamentarians. Nothing came out of this exercise, because our parliamentarians did not want to be subjected to any rules. Article 64 of the Constitution gives our parliament a very strong integrity tool which is, the right to carry out an in-depth investigation into wrong-doing in parliament and in government and if need be, parliament can ultimately submit its findings to the Public Prosecutor, according to article 80 of the Rules of Order of Parliament. Regrettably, during the last six years, Parliament has never made use of this right of inquiry.

Indeed, Parliament itself, has several instruments at its disposal which can be used to effect greater integrity. Yet, Parliament has never made use of these instruments to promote integrity. Hence, we can only conclude that Parliament is either not willing or not capable of “fixing we”, to use the expression of the Prime Minister. This means then, that there is certainly a need to establish another body that is specifically charged with integrity issues. If countries, regionally and internationally, that have oversight bodies, which we call High Councils of State, still see the need to establish integrity commissions, then there must be something that an integrity commission can do that the other oversight bodies are unable to do.

It is worth mentioning here that most CARICOM countries have established integrity commissions and that since June 2015, these commissions have formed the Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies in the Commonwealth Caribbean (AICACBCC).

Since Sint Maarten has to totally revamp its Integrity Ordinance that was rejected by the Constitutional Court, SMCP proposes that the new entity be called the Integrity Commission, in keeping with the term used by countries in the Caribbean. We also recommend that the Sint Maarten Integrity Commission seeks membership to the (AICACBCC).

The goal of the Integrity Commission is not to lock up people, even though this could be a result of its investigation, but to be the watch dog and to keep an eye on both the legislative and the executive branches of government. In addition, to uncovering corruption and exposing integrity breaches, Integrity Commissions regionally, as well as internationally, have also an educational component to their scope of duties.

They provide education and training to civil servants and government officials and they also seek to develop an integrity awareness among all citizens and to reach out to all educational institutions. Given the above information about contemporary Integrity Commissions, SMCP encourages government and parliament to take the Constitutional Court’s advice and develop an integrity commission similar to the ones in the region. SMCP believes that there is certainly a need for an Integrity Commission on Sint Maarten and the sooner the better!

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - The appointment of Quartermaster Hans Leijtens, last week, came as a shock to our politicians. The Honorable Prime Minister said he was flabbergasted. The Honorable President of Parliament called the appointment provocative and Member of Parliament, Theo Heyliger, described it as vindictive. And of course, the Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, Ronald Plasterk, gets the blame. However, is it fair to place all the blame on the Dutch? It takes two to tango, therefore Sint Maarten also plays a role in this whole saga.

Our Prime Minister declared, in the newspapers, that St. Maarten does not need an Integrity Chamber because we already have a number of laws such as the LMA that can be enforced. That is our problem on Sint Maarten. Indeed, we have the laws but we have never ensured that they were enforced. Consequently, lack of integrity, corruption, bribery, nepotism etc. have been the order of the day in government for years. Sint Maarten has a history of reports and investigations related to corruption and lack of integrity in government. In 1978 and in 1991, such investigations were conducted. Eventually, the government was placed under higher supervision in 1993 which lasted until March 1996. Again, between 2013 -2015 there were no less than three integrity reports plus an internal review of government done by the General Audit Chamber. The results of these reports were damaging for government as well as for parliament. One of the reports highly recommended and gave as priority the establishment of an Integrity Chamber. The necessary legislation for this was drafted and after several revisions the ordinance was passed by parliament. The ordinance was then sent to the Constitutional Court for review where it was totally dismissed and consequently returned to parliament to be rewritten.

Meanwhile, our government had approached Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Plasterk, for financial and personnel assistance, in connection with the implementation and development of the Integrity Chamber. On May 2015, Justice Minister Dennis Richardson, on behalf of the government of Sint Maarten, signed a protocol with Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Plasterk, in which it is agreed that the Sint Maarten Government would ensure that Parliament pass the National Integrity Chamber Ordinance, no later than June 31st 2015 and that the Dutch would appoint a quartermaster, no later than July 1st 2015, who would work together with the quartermaster, who was already appointed by Sint Maarten. It was also agreed that the cost of the Integrity Chamber would be shared by both Governments.

Even though the signed protocol permits the Kingdom Minister to unilaterally appoint the quartermaster, I agree with Prime Minister Marlin and President of Parliament Wescot-Williams that Minister Plasterk could have handled the decision with a greater degree of respect and courtesy. Sint Maarten should not have had to learn of this important appointment via the media.

However, I wonder if the Government of Sint Maarten has treated the Dutch Minister with the necessary courtesy and administrative respect? Did the Sint Maarten Government officially inform him that they were unable to meet the June 31st 2015 deadline? Now that the Integrity Chamber is derailed, has the Government given priority to the implementation of other aspects of integrity? Were integrity priorities reflected in the 2016 and 2017 budgets? Did Government and Parliament give the necessary time and attention to reviewing, debating and implementing the recommendations in the four integrity reports? Seeing that the Government had signed a protocol with Minister Plasterk, not officially notifying him of the developments surrounding the integrity reports and the integrity chamber is also a demonstration of lack of courtesy and respect on the part of Sint Maarten.

SMCP is of the opinion that the parliamentary meeting, scheduled for January 26th 2017, concerning integrity, is long overdue. However, it should not be a meeting to point fingers at who did and who didn’t do! This meeting should be one of action as to when and how to tackle the recommendations listed in the four integrity reports. It is also a known fact that the Prime Minister and the President of Parliament, have opposing views, with regard to the Integrity Chamber. Therefore, Government and Parliament should, first synchronize their positions, with regard to the Integrity Chamber. In addition, Parliament should set a time table, for the approval of the National Integrity Chamber Ordinance. Government should inform Minister Plasterk that due to extenuating circumstances, there is no work for the appointed quartermaster at this time But he can perhaps be involved in the rewriting of the Integrity Chamber Ordinance. Government and Parliament will also need to amend the budget, so as to allocate funds for the establishment and development of the Integrity Chamber. The relationship Sint Maarten versus the Dutch is not a matter to be fought out via the media. Let us go beyond the talk! Let us unite and come up with realistic plans and concrete action.

SMCP believes that after spending hundreds of thousands of guilders on integrity reports, Sint Maarten should get better results for its money. It is now up to you, Parliament and Government, to promote and implement integrity measures, so that the people can enjoy good governance. Therefore, let us not blame the Dutch.

I foresee 2017 as a very challenging year for St. Maarten in which it is going to define the future of our beautiful island and our Leaders. We are right now in the eye of the storm which is January where there is calm before the storm.

Mr. Editor, this letter is not to scare our people but to prepare them for the hard and uncertain times we're living in. These are times where we have to stay strong for the tough times that lie ahead of us. The good thing about going through the eye of the storm is that the tough times don't last forever because we are resilient people that rise above these times.  But as good Leaders we have to prepare our people and trust God during these difficult times. No matter what is going on, we need to remember what Jesus said" the things which are impossible with men are possible with God. (Luke18:27)
As good Leaders, we have to prepare our people for the challenges ahead and the only way we can get out these difficult times are by us working together as French and Dutch people and as one island.
St. Maarten is at a cross road and this year will determine if we are moving forward or backward as an island. If we don't get our act together and our Leaders and Elected Representatives don't step up to the plate in the general interest of our people then we need to buckle up our belts. The only way to move forward is by Government making firm decisions and addressing the priority issues with their Governing Program and a plan of action for 2017. 
Parliament also needs to get active and start back legislating laws which is lacking tremendously as new elected Representatives of the People.  It is about time to start doing at least something this coming week by updating the people of the recent concluded IPKO meeting of why the Kingdom Government endorses their version of the Dispute Regulation proposal while the proposal by the Dutch Caribbean islands was not handled. Simply Amazing way of working together by the Dutch. 
The Dutch has a master plan for this island in which some of us brought upon ourselves and they are going to continue to embarrass a lot of our Leaders and local people in 2017 through the Justice System and tarnish our image internationally to divide and conquer St. Maarten.
Mr. Editor, I was doing some research and reading about the Dutch Tax Office Chief who resigned after reorganization failures to revamp the Dutch Tax Office which collapsed into chaos after thousands of staff signed up to leave the service. Imagine the Dutch who pride themselves on Integrity appointed the same person as Quarter Master to lead the non-existent Integrity Chamber in St. Maarten.  This is simply amazing.
Imagine we are fighting each other and arguing over the petty issues while the Dutch are strategically planning and looking to see how they can take over the hub of the Caribbean St. Maarten and reposition their people here to lead and do their pirates of the Caribbean works in St. Maarten. When one of their own breaks the law they repositioned them with a good pay or send them to one of the Dutch Caribbean islands. Imagine the Finance Ministry of Holland who pride themselves on integrity issues said in a written press statement that the job no longer match his expectations.
I have never seen anything like what is happening now in St. Maarten among us as Leaders of this island. Some can't pass the screening or owed taxes but want to lead, Parliament on a stand still, the French and Dutch Governments are playing this power struggle among themselves while their people are suffering. Where is the unity and working together for the people?
Our late ancestors and deceased Leaders such as Dr. Claude Wathey and Dr. Petit are turning over in their graves the way our current Leaders are behaving and acting as representatives of our people who should be living up to the Concordia Treaty by displaying harmony and togetherness between the two sides of the island. St. Maarten is unique, I am born French and Dutch and I will continue to represent the interests of the people on both sides of the island as a member of our island community.
Mr. Editor, we need to do a study to see how many residents are living on the Dutch side of the island for us to build the necessary infrastructure, housing, medical facilities, improve our tourism product, tax system, safety and Security system and quality care for our people. We also need to get serious with Immigration control because our districts are over populated and become a major burden for Government and certain districts are in a deplorable state and needs to be upgraded for 2017. Government needs to change where the upgrading and beautification of Front Street and Back Street which falls under the Minister of VROMI. This is not the time to play politics and games with our livelihood and tourism product. We need to start putting the right professionals in the right positions with the right checks and balances to get the job done to move St. Maarten forward.
In closing, we need to wake up and smell the coffee and plan and lead our people better for 2017. We need to start making firm decisions in the general interest instead of self-interest of our people.
Our ancestors paved the way for us with Integrity while our parents brought us up with similar qualities and principles but my generation (including myself) the 40 plus needs to step up to the plate and lead and be a better example for the future generation to follow. Today’s generation needs to get away from the adopted culture of slander through social media, bad talking and self without contributing anything back to our community.  
We become a complaint society where everything is Government problem instead of theirs and self-society rather than what our Grandmothers taught us of working hard with Integrity, pride and respect. Our ancestors (which are our original culture) are different than the adopted culture we teach today's generation. We need to start teaching the future generation our history and culture in the schools for them to know their destiny. We need to start believing in ourselves and our own professionals by giving them the opportunity to grow. 
We have a long way to go for 2017 but let us start getting our act together and clean up our mess with integrity and come together as one nation for the difficult times which are ahead of us. God bless St. Maarten.
Former MP Maurice Lake

SMCP would like to commend MP drs. Rodolphe Samuel for representing Sint Maarten at Friday’s IPKO press conference on Curaçao. We feel proud, when Sint Maarteners are able to hold their own, especially when abroad. We are looking forward to MP Samuel and the rest of the Sint Maarten delegation (MP’s Sarah Wescot-Williams, Frans Richardson and Franklin Meyers), who attended the Inter-Parliamentary Kingdom Consultations, to hold a press conference on Sint Maarten, to inform our people about the outcome of the IPKO conference.

On another note, SMCP would like to ask the NA/USP/DP coalition government: where is their governing program? After signing the governing accord some two months ago and after the swearing in of the coalition government on December 20th 2016, one month ago, it is reasonable to expect that, by now, the governing program would have been released and submitted to Parliament. We know that it is available because his Excellency Governor Holiday referred to it at the swearing-in ceremony on December 20th. In addition, the Honorable Prime Minister, William Marlin also made mention of it in his New Year’s address, when he said that the Government “has produced a governing program, titled Stability for Prosperity”. From the Governor’s reference as well as the Prime Minister’s statement, we conclude that the governing program is ready. Why has it not yet been released and submitted to Parliament? I have checked the websites of government and parliament, as well as the websites of the parties forming the coalition for the governing program, but these sites have not yet released “Stability for Prosperity” either.

Last year, I wrote that, in order for parliament to be able to carry out its supervisory and monitoring function, it must be in possession of the governing program. This program, as I proposed, should be officially submitted to parliament by government and debated by parliament, for the sake of the parliamentarians as well as the general public. During the campaign period, political parties were required to publish their manifestos, outlining the intentions the party once elected. By the same token, the coalition partners should also publish their governing program and make it available to the general public so that the people will also know what the coalition partners plan to do and they can consequently hold government accountable if it does not execute according to its governing program.

When the DP government was still in opposition in Parliament, MP Sarah Wescot-Williams was very adamant about the now defunct NA/UPP coalition submitting its governing program to Parliament. In a press release, dated October 12th 2016, MP Wescot-Williams wrote that her party awaits “the publication of the NA/UPP governing accord and we hope a governing program will soon follow. After all, none of them are new to this, however their past records of presenting governing programs are not encouraging”. She then went on to list some fifteen points that she expected the NA/UPP to address in their governing program. According to her press conference on January 6th 2017, MP Wescot-Williams mentioned that upon the forming of the current NA/USP/DP Government, “the three parties signed an agreement to work together, to support the government and develop a Red, White and Blue governing program”. Now that MP Wescot-Williams is a part of the coalition, we trust that she will continue to push for the governing program to be submitted as soon as possible to parliament and to the general public.

A governing program is very important, because it describes what the government plans to do and accomplish during its four-year governing period. It is also imperative, that Parliament receives the governing program as soon as possible, in order that it can begin to carry out its supervisory role adequately by monitoring decisions and controlling actions taken by the government. In other words, the governing programs will give Parliament something to measure government by. And by the way, SMCP hopes that Parliament would also present a plan of action for the next four years, in a public meeting, as well.

The SMCP expects that, within short, the Honorable Prime Minister William Marlin will present the 2016-2020 Governing Program “Stability for Prosperity”, in a public meeting, to parliament so that parliamentarians can be given the opportunity to ask questions and receive clarification concerning it. In addition, SMCP expects that copies of Stability for Prosperity will be disseminated to the general public and that the coalition government will also inform the people, via media as well as via public- and town hall meetings, about their plans to govern the country. If they did so during the campaign, it is incumbent on them to do so now that they are in government. We are looking forward to the unveiling of the mysterious NA/USP/DP governing program as soon as possible.

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