Thursday , July 7 2022

Kingdom Government orders St. Maarten integrity probe, but Philipsburg does not cooperate

The Daily Herald reports today that the Kingdom Council of Ministers decided on Friday to give St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday an instruction to conduct an independent integrity investigation of St. Maarten’s government.

The goal of the investigation is to “promote good governance as is desired in a democratic state of law.”

“Government has an exemplary role where it concerns the integrity of politicians and the functioning of the public administration,” Chairman of the Kingdom Council of Ministers Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at his weekly press briefing on Friday afternoon.

An investigation into the bottlenecks and deficiencies in the proper and sound functioning of government is urgent, said Rutte.

“One must give serious attention when there are doubts about the integrity of government. That is the reason for this investigation. We want to prevent a further breakdown of the confidence that citizens, the private sector, institutions and foreign authorities have in the government of St. Maarten,” he said.

The Kingdom Government used the guarantee function of the Kingdom Charter, Article 43, and the Regulation of the Governor of St. Maarten to issue a Royal Decree (Koninklijk Besluit).

St. Maarten has objected to the legal grounds for issuing this decree and has requested that the Council of State of the Kingdom give a formal opinion on the legality of this decision. St. Maarten’s Justice Minister has announced that St. Maarten will not cooperate with the investigation pending the advice (see related story).

“The reputation of St. Maarten and therefore also of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is at stake,” said Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk after Friday’s meeting, which was attended by St. Maarten’s Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams.

Plasterk admitted that an instruction was a “serious matter,” but said the decision was necessary because St. Maarten had taken “insufficient action to earlier signals” that there were integrity issues in St. Maarten.

“There is sufficient reason to analyse structurally the relation between the political administration and integrity issues,” said Plasterk.

He said the Kingdom Government had taken into consideration the objections to the legal grounds to issue an instruction. “However, we still decided to instruct the Governor to initiate an in-depth investigation,” he said.

The investigation will focus on “well-known fragile sectors” like the gambling sector, prostitution, movement of foreigners, infrastructural works and large public tenders. Included in the investigation will be ministers, ministries and civil servants, as well as government-owned companies.

The integrity investigation will be conducted by an independent international organisation that has no ties to St. Maarten. Plasterk did not want to speculate on the names of possible organisations and said he would leave this up to Governor Holiday. “He is a wise man with sufficient capacity to do this,” he said.

The integrity investigation the St. Maarten Government has asked Transparency International to conduct is a separate issue, said Plasterk. “The St. Maarten Government is free to initiate its own investigation,” he said.

Rutte said he was aware of St. Maarten’s initiative to have Transparency International conduct an investigation. However, he added, “An independent investigation by an organization outside St. Maarten has its own autonomous value.”

Plasterk said he assumed that the Government of St. Maarten would take measures if illegal actions and violations of integrity were to surface during both the investigation by Transparency International, initiated by the Government of St. Maarten and the investigation the Kingdom Government now has ordered.

The Kingdom Government has informed Philipsburg multiple times of its concerns about the quality and functioning of the Government of St. Maarten since early 2013. “A negative perception has evolved about St. Maarten inside and outside the Kingdom that also affects the Kingdom in its entirety,” the Kingdom Government stated in a press release.

The instruction for an integrity investigation was pending for a while. Prime Minister Rutte already mentioned an investigation of this kind during his visit to St. Maarten in July this year.

“I said three things at that time. I said that I assumed that the Government of St. Maarten would carry out all recommendations of the Trafficking in Persons report of the US State Department.

“Second, I urged the government of my colleague Sarah Wescot-Williams to hire Transparency International for an investigation of integrity issues.

“But I also said that Minister Plasterk and I deemed the situation of such a serious nature that this would not be enough,” he told reporters.

Asked about his vision on the Kingdom, Rutte said: “My opinion is that the choices we made about the constitutional relations were wise choices with very clear agreements on the guarantee function of the Kingdom Charter where it concerns finances and issues like integrity and the quality of government.”

He acknowledged that the new countries were facing big challenges. “Curaçao seems to be working hard to get its finances in order. There is still a lot to be done in this area. There are reasons for concern on Aruba’s national debt. The situation is very serious in St. Maarten and that is the reason to order this investigation,” he said.

However, St. Maarten does not want to cooperate.

The Daily Herald reports further that St. Maarten is objecting to the legal grounds.  Philipsburg will not cooperate pending advice of the Council of State for the Kingdom.

St. Maarten’s Justice Minister Dennis Richardson told The Daily Herald on Friday that the Government of St. Maarten was not against the concept of having an integrity investigation as it has already asked Transparency International to conduct such an investigation. Moreover, St. Maarten has also proposed another, short-term investigation which would have a broader basis than the one ordered by the Kingdom Government on Friday.

However, St. Maarten is objecting to the legal instrument that the Kingdom Government used to issue a Royal Decree (“Koninklijk Besluit”) ordering an integrity investigation. According to St. Maarten’s Government, the Kingdom Government had no legal grounds to order an investigation through the Regulation of the Governor of St. Maarten.

Richardson and St. Maarten Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams are in the Netherlands.

Wescot-Williams attended Friday’s Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting, where she defended St. Maarten’s objections and presented an alternative proposal to conduct the integrity investigation together with The Hague. Her arguments were in vain and overruled by the Kingdom Government.

St. Maarten’s Minister Plenipotentiary Mathias Voges voted against the proposal to issue an instruction, as did his Curaçao colleague Marvelyne Wiels. Aruba’s Minister Plenipotentiary Edwin Abath was not present, because he is in Aruba for the elections on his island.

Following the decision of the Kingdom Council of Ministers, the Government of

St. Maarten decided that it would request a formal opinion, as so-called “voorlichting,” from the Council of State about the use of the legal instrument to give the Governor an instruction. St. Maarten will not cooperate with the Royal Decree pending this advice, Richardson announced.

In Richardson’s opinion, the Kingdom Government itself was now guilty of improper governing. “The Netherlands that tells us how important good governance is has made use of an improper instrument. The decision is unlawful, because it involves the incorrect use of the law that regulates the position of the Governor of St. Maarten,” he said.

The Kingdom Government opted not to use Article 51 as the legal ground for an instruction. This article enables the Kingdom Government to issue a General Measure of Government, a so-called AMVRB, if the country in question fails to redress a situation. It is possible to appeal a General Measure. Besides, a General Measure has to go to the Advisory Council.

“The Charter prescribes that the Kingdom Government has to make clear that the local institutions have failed. The Hague has been unable to prove this and that is why they have resorted to issuing a Royal Decree based on the Regulation of the Governor of St. Maarten which provides no possibility for an appeal,” said Richardson.

By using the wrong legal grounds, the Kingdom Government is setting a dangerous precedent, said Richardson. “It sets the door wide open for the Netherlands to meddle in the autonomous affairs of the countries in the Kingdom without limitation,” he said.

Richardson said that St. Maarten has tried to find a compromise with the Kingdom Government in the past weeks. St. Maarten proposed to have the investigation by Transparency International carried out in conjunction with the Kingdom Government, making use of the possibilities of a Cooperation Agreement based on Article 38 of the Charter.

Apart from having the investigation by Transparency International carried out together with the Kingdom Government, the St. Maarten Government proposed conducting a broad, short-term, independent investigation based on a Ministerial Decree or National Decree.

This investigation would have a timeframe of six months at most with an interim report after three months. The committee carrying out this investigation would consist of reputable persons from the European part of the Kingdom and of St. Maarten, whose integrity is above reproach, Richardson explained.

According to Richardson, the Netherlands opted to reject or not respond to

St. Maarten’s alternative proposals. He said the move of the Kingdom Government to issue an instruction seemed for local political consumption aimed to please the parties in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament that are critical of the current construction of the Kingdom.

In the meantime, St. Maarten will continue with the process to have an independent integrity investigation carried out by Transparency International. This investigation covers a term of one to two years. It will also continue with a short-term, independent investigation as it has proposed to the Kingdom Government. “St. Maarten commits itself to take a decision on the findings of this committee within a month after the final report,” he said.

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