Integrity Committee will deliver final report in June

POSTED: 12/20/13 12:10 PM

“We expect our recommendations to be taken very seriously indeed”

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – The Public Administration Integrity Committee chaired by Justice Bob Wit will deliver its final report in June of next year. The government is required to make the report public within one month. “This is not a report that will get lost or be secret forever,” Justice Wit said at a press conference last night. “By July it should be public and the committee expects it to be discussed in parliament.”

All members of the committee were present at the press conference. They are Rieke Samson-Geerlings, Jan Beaujon, Dick van Putten, Richard Gibson Sr., Ronald Bandell, chairman Justice Bob Wit and secretary Ron van der Veer.

The committee started its investigation this week. “We have interviewed some of the ministers, heads of government departments and people in the private sector,” Wit said. “The conversations were cordial and frank and we have been provided useful information.”

Wit emphasized that the committee’s work is not to be involved in criminal investigations. “We are not looking at what certain people have done,” he said. “If we happen to stumble upon evidence against persons we will forward it to the proper authorities.”

The chairman pointed out that the committee has six months to deliver its final report, and drew a comparison with the Zambezi-investigation in Bonaire. “They used the full force of the law and it took them years to complete that investigation. We have six months and we are not after anyone.”

The committee will focus on bringing into focus the types of corruption that occur in St. Maarten, but it will also weight all information in the regional context. “How do you measure a country like St. Maarten that is in this stage of its development? We will not use first world standards for it, but regional standards. We will also look at the difference between St. Maarten and other countries in the kingdom to define what makes this country special,” Wit said.

One thing the committee will not go after is what wit called stories: “We want to separate facts from fiction. I have found in my career that sometimes something that started as a story turned out to be a comedy of errors or misunderstandings; only sometimes these stories reveal clear misdeeds.”

Wit does not consider the investigation as a senseless or useless exercise. “Once we have established the facts we will be able to give proper suggestions for solutions. We are not looking at the past; we are looking at the future.”

Solutions could consist of amendments to legislation or to policies, Wit added. He also clarified the committee’s relationship with its principal, the government. “We are a completely independent committee. We will not be told anything or be instructed by anyone. No one would be on this committee if it were not completely independent. We will work without fear or favor and we will make a thorough and fair assessment that will take into account the limitations of a young country and its Caribbean context. And it is important to establish to what extent there is a factual basis for all the perceptions that exists about St. Maarten.”

On Monday, the committee had a meeting with Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday who, based on a hotly contested royal decree, has been ordered by the Kingdom Council of Ministers to commission his own integrity investigation. The governor has established a steering committee led by former National Ombudsman Marten Oosting that is tasked with finding an international company to conduct the investigation.

“It was a constructive meeting,” Wit said. “There is no antagonism from the side of the governor or from the steering committee. We have agreed that our committee will engage in consultation with Oosting to establish a form of cooperation. This way we will be able to avoid double work and unnecessary expenses.”

Wit said that there is no competition between the two efforts. “We hope to find a way to join forces and maybe divide some of the work. The Kingdom government and the government of St. Maarten have indicated that they agree with and are supportive of this approach.” The chairman added that, in spite of the possible cooperation, the two investigations will remain independent from each other.

The committee’s report will be ready at an interesting moment in St. Maarten’s history. By the time the Council of Ministers is required to make it public, the 2014 elections are almost there. “We expect that any recommendations we make will be taken very serious indeed,” Wit said, dismissing the idea that the government could push the report beyond the elections. “We have the option to ask for more time, but this is entirely up to the committee. The elections are none of our business.”

Whether the report will be a bombshell remains to be seen, but Wit said the committee is not about sugarcoating anything. “Growing up as a country sometimes hurts. If it has to hurt, so be it. But if we want to be honest, we also have to be honest with ourselves. There is a certain level of double thinking about integrity. If someone asks a politician for a favor and he gets it, he is satisfied. If he does not get it, it suddenly becomes an integrity-violation. So the time has come to not just look at politicians, we also have to be ready to look at ourselves.”

Wit said that the committee feels six months is sufficient time to complete the job. “The members on this committee have a huge practical knowledge,” he said. “That will save us already a lot of time.”

The complete committee will meet in St. Maarten again in March of next year. Halfway through the month, it will present an interim report of its findings to the Council of Ministers.

The final report, to be delivered in June, will be sent to Governor Holiday, the president of parliament Gracita Arrindell and the chairman of the Kingdom Council of Ministers, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

The committee encourages citizens, institutions, companies and the media to approach the committee with any information they wish to share – in writing or orally. All information will be kept confidential. The email address established for this purpose is integritysintmaarten@gemail.com; Secretary Ron van der Veer van be reached at 520 73 57.

 

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