Saturday , March 2 2024

Second chamber backs integrity screening on St. Maarten

The Daily Herald writes this morning that the liberal democratic VVD party, the Labour Party PvdA and Socialist Party (SP) representing a majority in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament fully support the decision of the Kingdom Council of Ministers last week Friday to order a more thorough screening of St. Maarten’s candidate ministers.

The instruction that the Kingdom government gave to St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday to hold off on the signing of the appointment of the members of the new Council of Ministers until an additional integrity screening has been completed with the assistance of Dutch experts, was “highly necessary,” said Members of the Second Chamber André Bosman (VVD) and Ronald van Raak (PvdA).

Member of the Second Chamber Roelof van Laar said that during the handling of the draft 2015 Kingdom Relations budget on October 1, he already called for an in-depth investigation of the indications of vote-buying in St. Maarten before the appointment of a new government. “The St. Maarten people need our help to promote integrity and to combat corruption,” he said at the time.

“Integrity, or rather the lack of it, is a severe problem in St. Maarten. The recent integrity report showed that ministers have not acted in good faith. It should not be tolerated that people like that are automatically appointed. It is a good thing that additional requirements are being set,” Van Laar told The Daily Herald on Sunday.

“The Kingdom Council of Ministers is protecting the interest of the Dutch taxpayer against the corrupt St. Maarten politicians. It has nothing to do with colonialism. Damage is being done to the Kingdom and it is our task to protect it. We will not tolerate that the Kingdom is hijacked by St. Maarten. The politicians should not be surprised that this instruction was given,” said Bosman in an interview.

Van Raak said the strict screening of the candidate ministers was needed so St. Maarten would get a proper government. “You cannot leave the people to be governed by a team that has links with the mafia. We have to prevent St. Maarten from going down the drain. I want the people to have a future and that is not possible with a government that has been bought and with corrupt politicians,” he said.

Bosman, Van Raak and Van Laar were not impressed by statements of caretaker Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and the United People’s (UP) party that they would not cooperate with the instruction of the Kingdom government.

“If they don’t cooperate, it means that it is time for a referendum so the people can express what they want and decisions can be taken how to proceed,” said Van Raak. “Higher supervision is not far away; it can be arranged in a heartbeat,” said Bosman.

“If St. Maarten doesn’t cooperate, their ministers cannot be appointed. It is that simple. But we can’t have a prime minister who has been accused of vote-buying. We need a new government with people who comply with the requirements of integrity and of whom it is certain that there are no conflicts of interest,” said Van Laar.

The three Members of Parliament (MPs) said that the Kingdom government had every reason to intervene. The charter dictates that it is the responsibility of the Kingdom government to safeguard good governance in the Kingdom.

“We are not doing this for fun. The islands should comprehend for once and for all, whether it is Aruba, Curaçao or St. Maarten, that there are rules in the Kingdom that they have to stick to. St. Maarten wants to be part of the Kingdom, St. Maarten knows the responsibilities that it carries. They signed for it,” said Bosman.

“Buying votes is apparently a normal thing in St. Maarten. There is a report that states that members of government are not taking integrity very seriously. We have to prevent this from happening again. These things are intolerable. St. Maarten has to acknowledge that integrity and good governance are a top priority and take serious action,” said Van Laar.

“It is the task of the Kingdom government to intervene when things go wrong as long as St. Maarten is part of the Kingdom. The Hague is saying that a decent screening is needed. What we are saying is not that strange. It counts for every democracy,” said Van Raak, who called the response of the UP on Friday “predictable.” “They are moving towards independence with this attitude.”

Bosman said the “tone” of the UP reaction showed that “they don’t really comprehend the seriousness of the issue.” He pointed out that there is no majority in the Second Chamber that wants to keep the islands in the Kingdom at all cost. “This is the Kingdom new style. If you think you can do all you want, then you can expect an instruction. If you want to be independent, then that is fine too. Then you can do your own thing.”

Bosman and Van Raak submitted a position paper in July 2013 in which they made a case for a commonwealth construction in the Kingdom whereby the countries Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten would have looser ties with the Netherlands. A debate in the Second Chamber on this position paper is scheduled to take place on December 1, 2014.

Theo Heyliger responds:

United People’s (UP) party leader Member of Parliament (MP) Theo Heyliger said on Sunday that the instruction by the Dutch government to Governor Eugene Holiday is intended to prevent him from becoming the next prime minister of St. Maarten.

In a statement on Sunday, Heyliger said the Dutch government may get away with attempts at discrediting him, but he said St. Maarten will ensure that the Dutch government will be held liable for damages its “intrusion” will cause St. Maarten and its people.

“Every legal avenue will be utilised to ensure that our right of self-determination is respected, as well as the rights set forth in our constitution and laws. We will seek redress outside the Kingdom with respect to the blatant disrespect for our constitution and get the support of a country to bring this matter before the international community of nations,” said the UP leader.

Heyliger claimed that the Dutch government had earlier initiated a character assassination on him. The instruction, which he claims is void of legal basis, is to ensure that the screening of candidate ministers and the prime minister for the 2014-2018 period is executed by the Dutch government, “without whose approval the governor is not permitted to sign the national decree of appointment.

“The measure states that the candidate minister must provide an unrestricted permission to the investigating experts of the Dutch government to undertake a screening of the candidate and its family members for an undefined period of time, through an undefined method of investigation, with yet-to-be-established screening parameters – an investigation method not even permitted within our Criminal Code,” Heyliger said in the release.

“It is therefore very clear that this measure is created to determine the screening process and its parameters with pre-existing bias to ensure that the screening process cannot be passed by my person. The so-called mafia, as I am being referred to, should never be able to pass the screening, even if no objections exist against my person. A system is being created where you can be accused, tried and convicted without ever having a possibility to defend yourself.”

Heyliger said it is clear that the instruction is violating St. Maarten’s constitution, the regulations regarding the screening of ministers and the country’s Criminal Code, and can, in the future, be used against anyone at random. This measure therefore will be placed before the Parliament of St. Maarten for debate. “I am not against screening of minister candidates. The instruction to the governor for what is in essence a pre-screening can only be considered an infringement of St. Maarten’s autonomy. With the way the Dutch are behaving, I truly ask myself why hold elections every four years? Why not simply have the Dutch government and Dutch MPs who know nothing about St. Maarten, but want to be dictators, just pick a government for us?” Heyliger asked.

He said the instruction for a thorough screening shows that the Dutch government is on a “no-holds, barred witch hunt,” with him as a primary target.

He said the PricewaterhouseCoopers integrity report “did not yield any glaring integrity issues the Dutch government was rooting for. This instruction to the governor is their follow-up attack to try to tarnish our country and her people further.

“What is amazing is we didn’t hear a word from the Dutch when a convicted person was serving in Parliament in the last term. The people of St. Maarten have also not heard any support or sympathy from the Dutch government after having endured Hurricane Gonzalo and suffered so much personal property damage and threats to life. It is also amazing that the Dutch behaves as though the Netherlands is the bastion of integrity when it is well known about the representatives of various Dutch political parties who have had to resign from office or from politics completely due to illegal actions.”

He said UP will continue to try to get a conflict resolution commission for the Kingdom. Such a commission, Heyliger said, has been called for by Aruba and Curaçao, as well as St. Maarten, and enshrined in motions before all three Parliaments.

“We are supposed to be equal partners, but we are anything but that as this recent instruction to the governor shows. The current coalition remains committed to reviewing the executing of the recommendations of the Wit-Samson integrity report, the PricewaterhouseCoopers integrity report and the one of the General Audit Chamber,” he said. “We are a four-year-old country battling against a bigger country with colonial views.”

Heyliger said he is reminded of what he called the struggle his grandfather, the late Claude Wathey, faced. “Any measure, even if taken by the Dutch government, must be in compliance with good governance and may at no time infringe on our fundamental human rights. The Dutch government has, without any proof, branded my person as being the mafia or having links with the mafia. This is slander yet given the fact that those to whom I would have to address my claim are appointed by the same Dutch government engaging in these slanderous acts.”

Heyliger: “Together with my coalition partners, we have embarked on following the right process for forming of the Government of St. Maarten. An open process in accordance to the law is being followed to present to the people of St. Maarten a capable, strong and stable government. I will work with undeterred determination to safeguard the people of this country and the institutions of our parliamentary democracy. I will stay true to my promises to the people of this country and shall, through transparency and with integrity, restore their faith in their government.”

Chairpersons of the First and Second Chamber visit Saba
Kingdom government orders tougher screening St. Maarten ministers