Opinion: Conflicts of interest

POSTED: 07/15/13 11:49 AM

The Council of Advice has published its own code of conduct. This is a noteworthy initiative; not because the code contains any real surprises, but because this shows the council’s commitment to transparency and independence.

Years ago, when St. Maarten was still part of the Netherlands Antilles, and business on the political level was done with an Island Council and an Executive Council, former Lt. Governor Franklyn Richards took the initiative for a similar code of conduct for politicians. Nothing ever came of it, because politicians reasoned that there are already enough rules they have to live up to. All citizens with a little bit of interest in politics have formed their own opinion about that issue in the course of the years and we never met anyone that agreed with our politicians.

But now the Council of Advice has grabbed the bull by the horns by writing its own code. There are fourteen rules in place to guarantee the impartiality and the independence of the council. The main one is that members cannot have functions that are incompatible with their membership. They all have to report paid and unpaid functions to the vice-chair, while the vice-chair herself reports her functions to the whole council.

Here is the interesting part: every member or extraordinary member who thinks that there is a conflict of interest involving him or herself or another member brings this to the attention of the vice-chair.

If there is the appearance that council’s impartiality and independence could be damaged members are excluded from deliberations and from voting on particular issues.

Mind you: the key word is here appearance. The council does not need airtight proof, just the appearance of a conflict of interest is enough.

This is something to consider by our Members of Parliament. In the 33 months that have passed since St. Maarten became a country, MPs have not even been able to establish their own rules of order, let alone a code of conduct. Instead, we remember a huge discussion about article 53 of the state regulation that establishes that MPs are not allowed to vote on issues that affect their personal interests. They went out of their way to turn this article more or less upside down, basically ignoring the constitution and explaining the article in a way that fit their purpose and political agenda.

The Council of Advice has, in our opinion, clearly shown a better way to do things. The council is not exploring the limits of what is right and decent as the parliament has a habit of doing. Instead it has established clear guidelines for the way it expects it members to conduct their business.

That approach sets the standard for the country’s future.


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