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.