st maarten justice minister

Justice Minister Dennis Richardson poses for photo with his foot on the new police vehicles…. Photo Daily Herald

THE HAGUE–A serious conflict is brewing between the Netherlands and St. Maarten over the setting up of an Integrity Chamber for St. Maarten. According to St. Maarten Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Dennis Richardson, The Hague is putting pressure on Philipsburg to agree with what he called a “draconic” proposal.

“St. Maarten wants to work together, but everything that we come up with is shot down. We can do nothing right by The Hague. There is a deep distrust towards St. Maarten,” Richardson told The Daily Herald in a combined interview with the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant at the end of his working visit to the Netherlands last week.

St. Maarten has been and remains a topic of discussion. The Hague is concerned about the level of integrity in government. Two recent integrity reports have shown that there is much room for improvement in this area. According to The Hague, St. Maarten has done insufficient to address the problem, as there was still no concrete plan of approach some five months after the integrity reports.

Richardson denied the accusations. He said that a plan of approach had been drafted, sent to The Hague, and that recommendations from the integrity reports of the Wit-Samson Committee and PricewaterhouseCoopers that were easy to implement have been executed. “We have embraced all recommendations.”

The biggest priority at this moment is the establishing of an Integrity Chamber, recommended by the Wit-Samson Committee. The draft national ordinance to establish this independent body, which will advise the Government of St. Maarten, invited and uninvited, on the general progress of integrity of the entire public sector as well as investigate integrity breaches, is ready.

Richardson said that he has sent a letter to Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk regarding the Integrity Chamber and to also ask for Dutch assistance to man and financially support the secretariat of the Integrity Chamber. The Netherlands can appoint one member in the three-member Integrity Chamber as well as in the Progress Committee that will be monitoring the process to improve integrity in government.

According to Richardson, the Dutch Government has different ideas on how to go about this matter, and wants a bigger role for The Hague. He said that St. Maarten is being pressured to agree with a consensus General Measure of Government, a so-called Algemene Maatregel van Rijksbestuur AMvRB dictating the composition and tasks of the Integrity Chamber.

The Chairman of the Kingdom Council of Ministers Mark Rutte would appoint the Chairman of the Integrity Chamber, the Dutch Government would appoint one member and St. Maarten the third member, while the secretariat of the Integrity Chamber would be mainly Dutch.

The Hague has been stressing on three things where it comes to the Integrity Chamber. Firstly it wants a clear role for the Kingdom Council of Ministers in the set-up. Secondly, the Kingdom Council of Ministers wants to receive direct and frequent reports. And thirdly, The Hague wants the Integrity Chamber to have far-reaching authorities to prevent that it would become a toothless tiger.

Richardson said that the Kingdom Council of Ministers maintained that the Integrity Chamber would have to be based on a AMvRB. St. Maarten would have to cooperate and agree with the proposed plan in the form of a consensus AMvRB. If St. Maarten doesn’t agree an AMvRB would be imposed without consensus, based on higher supervision. “The Kingdom Council of Ministers has told us that we can either have a AMvrB based on consensus or it will impose it.”

Ultimatum

St. Maarten was given an ultimatum to agree by December 31, 2014. So far, St. Maarten hasn’t agreed, said Richardson. The reason for that is that the Council of Ministers cannot agree with the plans as they have been drafted by The Hague, which also dictate the screening of candidate ministers and civil servants.

Richardson explained that the screening of candidate ministers and civil servants is already arranged through local, St. Maarten laws. “The Council of Ministers cannot agree with something that violates our local regulations and put our Parliamentary democracy aside. We cannot act against our rule of law, the Council of Ministers doesn’t have that authority. I would rather resign than act as minister against our laws,” he said.

In the opinion of the Justice Minister, the Kingdom Government can only act when St. Maarten has offered no redress. The latter has not been the case, he said. “We are working on it and have a draft law ready that has been sent to The Hague for commentary.” He said that Minister Plasterk needed to keep his word, since he said after the publication of the integrity reports that it was first up to St. Maarten to address the integrity issue.

According to Richardson, there is a deep distrust in the Kingdom Council of Ministers where it comes to St. Maarten. “The distrust that seems to say that that no one in St. Maarten can be trusted is totally disproportionate. I am shocked by the absolute negative, one-sided across the board perception that they have of St. Maarten. It is devastating and deeply painful.”

Richardson said the Dutch Government has not reacted to St. Maarten’s proposal to participate in St. Maarten’s Integrity Chamber by national ordinance and to establish this body with the input of the Netherlands and (financial and technical) assistance for its secretariat. “Distrust is the reason that The Hague doesn’t want to do this together. My advice to Rutte and Plasterk: talk with us so we can find a solution that is durable,” he said.

“I hope that the visit of Minister Plasterk will lead to finding solutions based on the willingness to cooperate instead of to dictate. In the end it is St. Maarten and St. Maarteners who must embrace and sustain integrity. Those in St. Maarten who are pursuing this should get maximum support,” the minister said.

Sustainable

Richardson said his pleas to find joint solutions to strengthen the law enforcement chain in a way that they will strengthen the local law enforcement agencies in a sustainable fashion does not seem to resonate sufficiently in The Hague.

“We want to cooperate to strengthen the law enforcement chain. But in accordance with the current constitutional rules, therefore under the control of the Justice Minister who is accountable to Parliament. And, the assistance from the Netherlands has to make a true, lasting contribution to the sector. We can’t have everything regress or collapse once the Dutch assistance ends.”

The Hague on the other hand wants more control on law enforcement and even plans to send a special anti-crime unit to the island, Minister Plasterk announced in October 2014. During last week’s Judicial Four Party Consultation with the Justice Ministers of the four countries in the Kingdom it was decided to give the cooperation between the countries a more structural character and allow for tailor-made solutions per country. A plan to this extent will be drafted before March 1.

Minister Plasterk will be having talks with the new Gumbs cabinet in Philipsburg today, Monday. Integrity, government finances and law enforcement will be the main topics in this meeting. These issues are also bound to come up in a meeting that the minister will have with the St. Maarten Parliament on the same day.