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.