“No need for integrity audit” SHTA sees room for direct improvement

POSTED: 10/15/13 11:38 AM

GREAT BAY – The St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) is cognizant of the issues surrounding the discussion about the execution of an integrity audit. “But we are concerned that the real issue is being lost in the debate,” the association stated in a press release. “It is important to differentiate between investigations into specific allegations and the creation of a government apparatus that is beneficial to the people.  Efforts to improve transparency and accountability do not depend on studies from Transparency International, or a mandate for an investigation into integrity. But all pending criminal investigations, and issues like Taxand, Orca, and vote buying need to be investigated and made public as swiftly as possible to minimize public criticism of our judicial system and return confidence in government.”

The SHTA states that it believes there is room for immediate improvement in the areas of transparency and accountability and that they should be implemented immediately.  In some cases the legislation already exists, but implementation has not been tackled.  “If we are to present ourselves as serious Kingdom partners we should begin with improvements that don’t require integrity audit.”

For starters, the SHTA mentions an Electoral Council, operated independently of parliament and government. “This needs to be finalized as soon as possible, to ensure that the registration of political parties that want to take part in the next election, meet with the requirements as set forth in the National Ordinance and to carry out the financial supervision of party campaign funds.”“

Another issue is campaign finance reform. “This legislation regulates how political campaigns are financed, reports on how the money is spent, prevents any type of  vote buying, and ensures the public disclosure of assets and incomes of candidates running for public office, public officials, politicians, legislators, judges, and their direct dependents.”

The SHTA furthermore supports the establishment of a National Integrity Commission, a body that will investigate integrity complaints. This body must be “financially and politically independent and have the authority to investigate corruption.”

“Elected officials should focus on establishing clear policy guidelines versus ad hoc decisions making.  There should be less opportunity for personal discretion and more policy, so elected officials can be more focused on setting policy rather than on issuing specific permits.  Issuing or denying individual permits creates a structure that is susceptible to corruption,” the SHTA notes in its statement.

The association further more calls for a review of public procurement procedures, to ensure that the requirements offer equal opportunities for all businesses to apply and make the process more transparent, thus saving the government money and insuring accountability.

The SHTA also states that gathering key data is critical to proper decision making.  “St. Maarten has sufficient knowledge on what needs to be done. However, many reports end up in a drawer without actually being executed. What we lack is a proper data information system such as the TSIS (Tourist Statistical Information Service), which would allow us to strategically direct our marketing efforts in order to compete with other destinations in the region, validating or discrediting the return on investment for specific programs and projects.”

Public Private Partnerships have proven to be excellent vehicles to improve efficiency and focus resources in a productive manner, the SHTA statement says. “For example, the incorporation of the St. Maarten Tourism Authority would bring continuity to the tourism industry, for both immediate and the long term goals, regardless of what takes place in the political arena. Consequently, the business of promoting St. Maarten and bringing tourists in, thus generating revenue for our country would continue uninterrupted.”

The Soab (the government accountant bureau –ed.) is not permitted to execute assignments by choice, the SHTA points out. “Instead it needs to be requested to perform a specific audit.  The SHTA believes that the Soab’s efficiency and impact could be improved by having the ability to determine what should be audited, instead of being invited to do so.”

The SHTA notes that here are many examples around the world of efforts to improve transparency and refers to the state of Missouri’s transparency portal at http://mapyourtaxes.mo.gov/MAP/Portal/Default.aspx.   European countries are also implementing transparency portals and departments. “It is clear that governments around the world are embracing the use of technology to give citizens unprecedented access to information and disclose the government administration procedures, ensuring transparency and accountability,” the SHTA states.

“As the debates and negotiations between Holland and St. Maarten continue, the SHTA hopes that all the players and citizens don’t lose sight of the real issue;  the efficient and responsible use of the resources that the citizens have entrusted government to use for the collective good of St Maarten.  Corruption diverts resources from where they are most needed and it distorts the decision making process prioritizing otherwise undesirable or low priority projects,” the statement concludes.

The SHTA, the largest private business representative on the island, is dedicated to bringing quality to all aspects of life on St. Maarten by promoting sustainable economic development for its members in cooperation with the social partners and the creation of a fair marketplace. For information call 542 01 08 or visit www.shta.com.



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