MP Frans Richardson: “leave it as it is” – Opposition bemoans changes VDSM (Secret Service) oversight committee

POSTED: 08/9/13 1:36 PM

St. Maarten – The opportunity was there but for a change all Members of Parliament stuck strictly to the agenda of yesterday’s Central Committee meeting and they did not make a single remark about the investigation into irregularities at the country’s secret service VDSM. The proposal to replace the president of parliament with a candidate from the Constitutional Court on the VDSM-oversight committee has the support of the coalition, but opposition MPs remained critical.

Currently this commission consists of two judges of the Common Court of Justice, Selma Verheijen (chair) and Albert Beukenhorst (vice-chair), the vice-chair of the Council of Advice Mavis Brooks-Salmon and the President of Parliament, currently Drs. Gracita Arrindell.

The government’s proposal to replace the president of parliament with a candidate from and appointed by the Constitutional Court is inspired by the thought that the president of parliament could find him or herself in an awkward position as a member of the oversight committee that reports to the minister of general affairs and who as a member of parliament could be questioning about the functioning of the same committee.

Independent MP Frans Richardson had the most trouble with the proposal, saying that he needed more clarity about the reasons to replace the president of parliament on the committee. “The parliament has a role to play and the president of parliament was placed on that committee for a reason,” he said. “The story I’m hearing is that they don’t want information from the VDSM end up in the hands of politicians, but the Prime Minister (who is responsible for the secret service – ed.) is also a politician. Parliament should be involved in this committee.”

National Alliance MP George Pantophlet also wondered where the need to replace the president of parliament came from. “What is the experience in Aruba?” he asked. “If it works there, why would it not work here?”

UP-MP Jules James had no problem with the proposal, but he wondered who the replacement would be – the chairman of the constitutional court or someone else. James proposed to make the president of the Constitutional Court (currently Justice Bob Wit – ed.) the designated candidate.

DP-MP Roy Marlin also supports the proposal. “I have no objections. This has to do with the constitutional hierarchy. If you have a committee overseeing the VDSM with the president of parliament which reports to the Prime Minister who in turn reports to the parliament with its president, then it puts the president of parliament in an awkward position.”

Former parliament president and now NA-MP Rodolphe Samuel had serious issues with the proposal. “It comes across as if parliament has to give up some of its supervising role, some of its control,” he said. “Are there enough reasons for the parliament to remove itself from this responsibility? I am saying no.”

Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Sarah Wescot-Williams acknowledged that the situation in Aruba is similar to the current situation in St. Maarten. In the Netherlands a committee of parliament nominates candidates to the Minister of General Affairs. “Our proposal is not based on problems that have occurred,” she said. “This is not about trust of a lack of trust but about the constitutional perspective.”

Wescot-Williams vehemently dismissed the idea that parliament is giving up part of its responsibility by approving the proposed change.

“It is not wise to challenge the president of parliament on her functioning in this oversight committee,” Justice Minister Dennis Richardson noted. “The secret service works in gray areas of the law and therefore it is good to have people on the committee with legal experience and – via the General Audit Chamber – financial experience. The parliament can hold the minister of general affairs accountable for the functioning of the oversight committee.”

MP Frans Richardson was not convinced and pleaded with parliament to leave everything be. “Let us see how it functions and make a change when it does not function.” He said. “Until you can show me there is a problem, let us leave it how it is and move on.”

Rodolphe Samuel still felt offended by the idea of placing a candidate from the Constitutional Court before the president of parliament. “I am not giving the Constitutional Court a higher vote than our parliament.”

Justice Minister Richardson gave the MPs yet another reason for appointing a candidate from the Constitutional Court. “In our young democracy our Members of Parliament go along party lines. We have seen that in the recent past. It is not wise to have the president of parliament on that committee. That position could be used along party lines.”

That remark offended MP Frans Richardson and he criticized the minister for it. But Richardson stuck to his guns: “I was not questioning anybody’s trust, I was stating a fact,” he deadpanned.

DP-MP Leroy de Weever brought up one more point: should not the members of the oversight committee be residents of St. Maarten?

All remarks will be taken into consideration before the proposal goes to a public meeting of parliament for approval.

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MP Frans Richardson: “leave it as it is” - Opposition bemoans changes VDSM (Secret Service) oversight committee by

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