“New ministers at Finance and Justice offer positive outlook” Rutte discusses finances, justice and integrity

POSTED: 07/19/13 12:01 PM

Rutte and Wescot-Williams

Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Sarah Wescot-Williams are all smiles at the press conference. Photo Today / Milton Pieters

St. Maarten – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte discussed St. Maarten’s finances and issues related to the Justice Ministry at length yesterday afternoon in meetings with Prime Minister Wescot-Williams and the members of the Council of Ministers.

Rutte’s first official visit to the island was off to a bumpy start because the Insel Air flight from Curacao experienced a delay of about one-and-a-half hour. The scheduled boat tour across the Simpson Bay Lagoon was therefore left to members of the trade mission, while Rutte spent more than two hours in meetings with the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. After a brief press conference, Rutte paid a visit to the parliament, where he was received by President Drs. Gracita Arrindell and the faction leaders of the Democratic Party, Roy Marlin, and the United People’s party, Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce. The faction leader of the opposition National Alliance, George Pantophlet, and the Independent MPs Frans Richardson, Romain Laville and Patrick Illidge were not present.

The Dutch delegation started its day in St. Maarten with a lunch at Sheer restaurant, hosted by Governor drs. Eugène Holiday, followed by a visit to the governor’s cabinet.

After that, Prime Minister Rutte arrived at the Government Administration building around 3 p.m. Due to the delays journalists had to wait more than two hours before the press conference got underway.

“It is important to get the 2013 budget established as soon as possible,” Rutte said at the press conference. “I understand that every effort is made to get it done.”

The Dutch Prime Minister said that with his colleague Ronald Plasterk (Kingdom relations) he is happy with St. Maarten’s initiative to ask Transparency International to conduct a national integrity assessment.”

He also noted that the Government of St. Maarten is “prepared to take action on all recommendations made in the Trafficking in Persons report of the American State Department. Rutte added that the two new ministers on the departments of finance and Justice – Maarten Hassink and Dennis Richardson – “offer a positive outlook of respect and hope.” This establishes “a new start in terms of integrity,” he said.

PM Wescot-Williams referred to the importance of the trade-mission that accompanies Prime Minister Rutte on his trip. “St. Maarten has made clear that a lot can be done in terms of trade relations and investments,” she said. “We also share the sentiment that it is not part of St. Maarten’s plans to talk about new constitutional constructions. We focus on the economic development of the country and on creating win-win situations.”

“I totally agree,” Rutte said. “There are new relationships in the Kingdom. St. Marten is now a country that stands on its own feet.”

Rutte quickly made clear, answering a question from this newspaper, what standing on one’s own feet means for St. Maarten: “The book on debt relief is closed.” Under the previous government, Finance Minister Roland Tuitt announced that he would attempt to recover part of the uncollected debt relief through legal procedures.

Dutch journalists asked Wescot-Williams what guarantees she could give for upholding integrity standards. “It is a high priority,” the PM said. “We are working on legislation to establish an integrity bureau. We do this in cooperation with the integrity bureau of Amsterdam.”

The PM also pointed to her initiative to contact Transparency International for a national integrity assessment. “We have an agreement with TI, but we are still looking at a solution for the funding.” Today reported yesterday that, according to the Prime Minister, it is not possible for the government to pay TI directly for the assessment, because this would affect the organization’s independence.

Questions about the salaries members of parliament and ministers earn – and that are perceived as extremely high in the Netherlands – fell flat, as the PM pointed out that they are linked to the salary scales for civil servants. “This issue has been discussed extensively before 10-10-10 and our politicians arrived at their conclusion. I respect that,” Wescot-Williams said.

Rutte evaded a direct answer when he was asked his opinion about the lavish salaries: “It is not up to me to comment on this.”

After the press conference Rutte and his delegation visited the parliament building for a relaxed meeting with its President Gracita Arrindell and faction leaders Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce (UP) and Roy Marlin (DP). It is unclear why National Alliance faction leader George Pantophlet and the three Independent MPs (who are their own faction leaders) were not present. After a photo-op, the meeting at the conference room, where Rutte dived with visible enthusiasm in the plate of cookies on offer, continued behind closed doors. In the evening there was a dinner at Divi Little Bay.

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