Doing the right things right: Wit-committee presents 40 integrity-recommendations

POSTED: 08/20/14 6:35 PM

St. Maarten – Doing the right things right, the final report from the Committee Integer Public Administration chaired by Justice Bob Wit, was leaked to the media yesterday morning from the email-address integritysxm@gmail.com. The leaked version, an 80-page report containing forty recommendations for improving integrity in the government and the civil service, does not contain the comments from the government to the findings.

In March of last year, this newspaper received two press statements from the interim faction leader of the United People’s party, Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce. We replied to that email with a question about the Bada Bing-investigation. This earned us an almost immediate response that read: “Dear Sir, Thank you for your mail. It will be passed on to the respective MP for follow-up.” When we traced the IP-address from which the email was sent, it turned out to be located in Mountain View in California.

When we traced the IP-address of the email address that was used to send us the integrity report, we found that this IP-address (64.233.171.26) is also located in Mountain View.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams stated in an email to this newspaper on Friday, that the publication of the report had been delayed and that the government’s comments would be discussed in the Council of Ministers yesterday.

The report consists of fourteen chapters that deal with issues like financial discipline, corporate governance, tracking and prosecuting crimes, two government-owned companies – the port and the airport –  public tenders, permits, casinos, and migration, human trafficking and prostitution.

The report is highly critical about St. Maarten’s Parliament. The committee recommends to create a public register of paid and unpaid functions parliamentarians hold next to their job as representative of the people and to publish this register on the Parliament’s website. Other recommendations are guidelines for accepting gifts, to register these gifts in a public register and to determine by law whether membership of the Parliament is a full-time job.

“If this is the case, then paid side-jobs have to be forbidden while unpaid side-jobs have to be subjected to critical rules. If membership of Parliament is not a full-time job, the remuneration for MPs has to be lowered proportionally.”

The report furthermore recommends that Members of Parliament submit a report about their assets shortly after taking office and shortly after leaving office, the same way this is regulated for ministers. A public code of conduct for parliamentarians regarding matters of integrity ought to be anchored in the rules of order for Parliament.

The advantages of fraternal administration and the individual responsibility of ministers ought to be combined for a more efficient functioning of the council of Ministers. The chair and the secretary of the council of Ministers have to be stricter in their supervision over (perceived) conflicts of interest during debate and decision making.

The rules for the screening of ministers have to be regulated in one national ordinance. The committee recommends using Curacao’s screening system as an example.

A Handbook for beginning parliamentarians and ministers – similar to the Blue Book the Dutch parliament uses – ought to inform newcomers about matters of integrity related to their function.

The committee recommends an annual debate in Parliament about the annual report of the General Audit Chamber and other relevant publications, like the annual reports from the Council of Advice and the ombudsman. This would create an annual Day of Giving Account – which would be unique in the Kingdom.

The Wit-committee recommends an investigation into the purchase and lease of office space with the help of local real estate experts. “Present the results on the government’s website. According to the committee citizens are entitled to know exactly for which price buildings are bought or leased with taxpayers’ money and from whom the property has been bought or leased.

The committee recommends to abolish the Corporate Governance Council and to replace it with an independent Integrity Chamber.

Another issue is the role of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Detective Agency. The Wit-Committee recommends formulating a concrete plan for the criminal prosecution of integrity-related crimes, like fraud and bribery and to give this high priority.

The airport ought to determine before December 1 which functions deserve the strictest trust-qualification A. directors of government-owned companies must complete a security-screening by medio 2015 or otherwise be put on non-active duty. Directors of government-owned companies who become the subject of a criminal investigation into serious integrity-violations, ought to step down until the investigation has been completed. The prosecutor’s office has to see to it that these investigations do not take unnecessary long.

The committee recommends to provide insight in the management of government-owned companies by publishing annual reports and accounts, business plans and the names and curricula of directors and supervisors on their websites.

Furthermore, the committee recommends the publication of all information about permits, including the names of those who requested permits and obtained them.

The committee urges the government to take into account that an expanded tax inspectorate will have to do additional controls in vulnerable sectors, like the one of the casinos. It also urges the government to hurry up with the establishment of the elusive Gaming Control Board and to make sure that this board becomes operational within twelve months.

A critical evaluation of the Immigration Department should take place in 2015 and the coordination of human trafficking ought to become the responsibility of one minister.

The committee recommends to shift the focus for controls at brothels to the fight against human trafficking and to set stricter rules for civil servants that are charges with these controls.

The last recommendation is to formulate a plan of approach for the improvement of the level of integrity within the public administration and to set up a progress committee charged with monitoring the execution of this plan of approach.

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