Opinion: Integrity assessment of country St. Maarten (2)

POSTED: 10/10/13 12:11 PM

What would a national integrity system assessment of St. Maarten look like? Critics of Transparency International’s reports say that the findings are to general; at times they have even been compared to “a refined Google search.” Below is part 2 of TI’s executive summary of the National Integrity system assessment of Curacao. It gives a pretty good idea of the results one may expect from a similar exercise in St. Maarten and as such it is a good source of information for public debate. For part 1, see the Opinion page in Today’s edition of Wednesday, October 9.

With regards to prioritizing anti-corruption and accountability as a key concern in the country, there have been a number of reforms initiated by the Executive and approved by Parliament in this respect. However, some reforms are still ‘in the legislative process’ and awaiting enactment, while other pieces of legislation have been approved in a weakened form. This is largely a result of the fact that the Executive does not prioritize the implementation of legislative reforms and Parliament, with a few exceptions, does not sufficiently press the Executive to do so.

The Executive, for its part, does not do particularly well in managing the public sector, and the capacity of the public sector is undermined by the at times strong influence of the Executive on appointments in the sector as well as its output. Both the Executive’s hands-on approach as well as its passive form of not taking action limit the capacity of the public sector to operate effectively. The specific circumstances of the new constitutional relations, requiring two executive layers to be merged into one, have not enhanced the sector’s performance so far, and have done little to further transparency, accountability and integrity. They have also prevented the public sector from effectively addressing anti-corruption issues through public education, cooperation with third parties and increased efforts to safeguard integrity in public procurement.

That said, in many respects, the public sector does have several already fairly robust governance provisions, and the issue is one of implementation. For example, as of yet, there are no effective mechanisms to enforce the new integrity rules, and so far no confidants (vertrouwenspersonen) have been appointed to allow civil servants to address integrity issues within the administration on a confidential basis. Moreover, positions involving confidentiality (vertrouwensfuncties) have not yet been classified as such. Meanwhile Dutch development funds allocated to support good governance have dried up. Most money has already been spent or, because it was not spent in the projected time frame, is no longer available. Public companies and public foundations face important issues with transparency and accountability, and neither the letter nor the spirit of the corporate governance code in place is yet fully observed.

The supervisory institutions of the private sector, which include the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten (CBCS), the Gaming Control Board (GCB) and the Financial Intelligence Unit (MOT – Meldpunt Ongebruikelijke Transacties), show a mixed track record. The weakest link in this pillar, no doubt, is the lack of any supervision on gaming activities other than those conducted by the country’s casinos. That said, the casino supervisor, GCB, is only doing slightly better. In particular the operational independence of the GCB from the casino sector has been called into question, while provisions to ensure the transparency and accountability of the GCB are notable by their absence. The legal framework to ensure that CBCS and MOT are answerable for their actions, on the other hand is relatively strong, although provisions to hold the supervisors accountable for the use of their supervisory and sanctioning powers could be improved. For CBCS, the most pressing challenge is the lack of effective communication between the different relevant actors which means that accountability of CBCS is currently not ensured. This is particularly important to counter-balance the necessary operational independence of the Bank. Moreover, although the legal framework allows for effective integrity supervision of the private sector, due to a lack of publicly-available information – or, in MOT’s case, simply because its supervisory activities have only just started – the effectiveness of the supervisors’ activities in practice cannot be assessed.

In terms of law enforcement agencies, the public prosecutor’s commitment to fighting corruption is undermined by limited financial and human resources available to the police, particularly in the field of combating financial crime. Likewise, the existing financial and human resources of the Landsrecherche – Curaçao’s special police force dedicated to investigating possible criminal conduct of government officials and civil servants – are minimal and fully insufficient to effectively carry out its duties. This seriously undermines the ability of the law enforcement agencies to adequately prosecute corruption cases, which are often complicated and time-consuming, and require special expertise. Institutional mistrust within an agency between law enforcement officials and also with other law enforcement agencies, and a lack of coordination also negatively affects the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect and investigate corruption cases. Finally, the confidential nature of corruption investigations also limits the ability of the Public Prosecutor’s Office to adequately inform the public, who often do not know whether corruption cases are being investigated and if so, what is involved.

This lack of transparency fuels allegations of a lack of prosecution in the media coverage in Curaçao. The media have to some extent contributed to raising awareness of the problem of corruption, but, positive exceptions notwithstanding, reports are often limited, biased and of poor quality. There is an insufficient number of trained journalists and the area of investigative journalism is virtually non-existent. Moreover, because media companies to a large extent depend on financiers and the advertising market, ‘subtle exertion of influence’ on media content does occur. This undermines the independence and the accountability of the media and prevents them from effectively fulfilling their role as a watchdog.

Some civil society organizations and businesses, meanwhile, are currently performing their role within the Curaçao National Integrity System adequately. Both provide input to on-going anticorruption discussions, although, as yet, the impact of their activities to hold the Executive accountable for its actions is difficult to measure. However, the overall level of transparency of these pillars is inadequate, and there are almost no legal provisions requiring making information available publicly. Business also shows a mixed picture with regards to integrity safeguards. The financial sector and certain professional organizations have strong mechanisms in place, including integrity and complaint procedures, but the consistency and effectiveness of the integrity efforts is not publicly known. In addition, in the very largest part of the business community, such mechanisms and procedures do not exist at all. In general there is a reactive approach regarding integrity issues.

Curaçao does not have an independent anti-corruption institution. Such an institution is recommended in the United Nations Convention against Corruption, which is enacted by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but not ratified on behalf of Curaçao. Currently the government of Curaçao is working on finalizing the relevant legislation needed to ratify this and other treaties against corruption.

Policy recommendations

The Curaçao NIS assessment has yielded a number of concrete recommendations to address the weaknesses identified through the research and to strengthen the anti-corruption safeguards in the country. The 4 key areas which require particular attention are identified below.

1. Curaçao must ratify the United Nations Conventions against Corruption as a matter of urgency and develop an action plan to ensure implementation and compliance.

2. All sectors of society must strive to increase the levels of transparency in their activities, internal procedures and funding sources. Given the pivotal role played by political parties in the Curaçao NIS, the transparency of political party financing requires particular attention.

3. The Government should prioritize funding and capacity building of law enforcement agencies to enable them to effectively conduct investigations and follow-up on cases put forward by Curaçao’s active watchdog and oversight agencies.

4. Given the central role of the public sector in Curaçao’s NIS, the government must work to ensure greater independence and accountability of the public sector, ensuring that principles of proper administration are adhered to, that all internal mechanisms to ensure accountability and integrity are in place, and that compliance with these mechanisms is monitored and sanctions imposed where necessary.

Did you like this? Share it:
Opinion: Integrity assessment of country St. Maarten (2) by

Comments are closed.