Dutch Staatscourant publishes royal decree integrity investigation of St. Maarten: Dutch Minister Plasterk expects full cooperation

POSTED: 10/4/13 1:54 PM

St. Maarten – The Staatscourant published yesterday the royal decree about the instruction to Governor Holiday to order an investigation into the functioning of the public administration in St. Maarten. The decree will also be published in the National gazette in St. Maarten. The decree gives more details about the upcoming investigation: it has to be completed within six months and the governor has the authority to demand cooperation from national institutions (like ministries) and from civil servants.

The independent investigation the governor has been ordered to conduct focuses on “the proper and integer functioning of the public administration as it becomes a democratic constitutional state.” The report must contain recommendations about the established bottlenecks and shortcomings. “The Governor presents the report within six months after he received the assignment to the Kingdom Council of Ministers, via the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations. Within three months the governor reports about the investigation’s progress.”

The explanatory notes with the decree make clear that there is no maneuvering space for the government in St. Maarten to refuse cooperation, as Prime Minister Wescot-Williams announced on Wednesday. The standing orders for the governor grant Governor Holiday the authority to request cooperation from country-institutions. “The services and the civil servants of the country are at his disposal for this purpose,” the explanatory notes state. “It follows from this that Sint Maarten cooperates fully with the investigation.”

Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk, who signed the explanatory notes, also clarifies what this cooperation entails. “To prevent any misunderstandings, from article 24 follows that not only ministers and those who work for them but all country-institutions are obliged to cooperate with the investigation that has been ordered by the governor. They must be fully at the service of the investigators if the governor requests them to do so.”

Article 25 of the standing orders for the governor make clear that not executing a royal decree is not an option: the governor would expose himself to criminal prosecution, to a maximum prison sentence of 3 years and to a maximum fine of €19,500 (at the current rate about $26,500).

Minister Plasterk writes in the explanatory notes that since the beginning of 2013 “the Kingdom Council of Ministers has regularly expressed its concerns about the fact that the functioning and the reputation of the administration in St. Maarten is increasingly a topic of discussion. St. Maarten regularly makes the news due to recent incidents and rumors about integrity violations by politicians and there are perceptions about the existence of corruption. There is also a generally shared sentiment among citizen, enterprises and foreign governments that the soundness and the proper functioning of the administration in a broad sense in Sint Maarten is a problem that is larger and deeper than meets the eye.”

Plasterk mentions that reports about the lack of a Border Management System have attracted attention not only in the Kingdom but also elsewhere – like in the United States. This newspaper reported on March 1 that there were major concerns about the non-functioning border management system, though the head of the immigration service, Udo Aron maintained at the time that everything was working properly.

The Kingdom Council of Ministers concluded that there is sufficient reason for an investigation because of the predominantly negative perception that exists inside and outside of the Kingdom about St. Maarten.

Plasterk furthermore notes that he consulted verbally and in writing with Prime Minister Wescot-Williams during the past couple of months. The minister refers to a letter he sent to Wescot-Williams on April 4 in which he stated that the Kingdom Council of Ministers wanted to know which measures the government of St. Maarten is taking to address the concerns of the Kingdom Council of Ministers and that are able to eradicate the negative perceptions. “In essence, the answer of the Prime Minister had not been able to remove the concerns in the Kingdom Council of Ministers.”

Citizens may expect that the government executes its task according to the principles of the constitutional state and democracy, Plasterk points out. “When there are doubts, this deserves serious attention. It has not appeared to the Kingdom Council of Ministers that St. Maarten pays all of its care and attention to this.”

From the explanatory notes it becomes apparent that the investigation that now gets underway covers ministers and civil servants alike. Specific vulnerable sectors like prostitution, gambling and immigration and generally known vulnerable sectors like permits for infrastructural projects and other large tenders all fall within the scope of the investigation. Government-owned companies will also be investigated.

Several entities will not be subjected to the investigation: the parliament, the judiciary, the Council of Advice, the General Audit Chamber and the Ombudsman. Under the judiciary – though the explanatory notes do not specify this, the office of the public prosecutor, the office of the attorney-general and the court. The National Detective Agency and the police force fall not under the judiciary and will therefore be part of the investigation.

Minister Plasterk emphasizes in the explanatory notes that the investigation the governor has been charged with is apart from “the by the government of St. Maarten to be given assignment to Transparency International that is currently being prepared.” The Kingdom government wants to do its own investigation as soon as possible. “The investigation stands also apart from possibly ongoing criminal investigations by the Public Prosecutor’s Office that are conducted under the responsibility of the justice minister of St. Maarten.”

Based on the results of the investigation and the subsequent recommendations “the government of St. Maarten can implement improvements where necessary, if need be in cooperation with other countries in the Kingdom.”

Minister Plasterk furthermore elaborates on the basis for the decision to order the investigation. Apart from the reference to article 15 of the standing orders for the governor, the minister also explains that by the government in St. Maarten heavily contested – invoking of article 43 of the Kingdom Charter (the guarantee function): “The decision is also based on article 43 of the Kingdom Charter to express that the motives and considerations on which it rests find their basis in the values mentioned in this article, namely the fundamental human rights and freedoms, the legal security and the soundness of governance.”

Plasterk emphasizes that the instruction has to be issued by royal decree and that it must fit within the governor’s regular authority. “The (Kingdom) government deems it necessary that the functioning of the public administration is investigated under the direction of someone who is close to the national administration but who is also capable to distance himself sufficiently from it. The governor knows the local conditions, the culture, the political and constitutional rules and customs. This is why he is the most obvious person to function as the principal for this investigation.”

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Dutch Staatscourant publishes royal decree integrity investigation of St. Maarten: Dutch Minister Plasterk expects full cooperation by

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