Opinion: Integrity of ministers

POSTED: 11/15/12 1:10 PM

Ministers are held to certain standards, but are they? That question popped up after we revealed yesterday the involvement of Justice Minister Roland Duncan in Hypnotic Hotel and Entertainment NV, the company that operates the Seaman’s Club brothel in Sucker Garden. Moral issues aside (is it proper for a Minister of Justice to be involved in prostitution?) there are down to earth rules that regulate the position of ministers.

Article 35 of the Constitution for instance states the following: “The ministers may not, either directly or indirectly, possess holdings in or be a director or supervisory director of any enterprise established or operating in Sint Maarten. Holding shares in a public limited company is not regarded as possessing a holding in an enterprise unless the party concerned holds 25% of the shares in conjunction with his relations by blood or marriage up to and including the second degree.”

One could of course argue that not the minister, but his company D&B Management and collection services and the Duncan Pension Fund foundation are listed as the managing directors of Hypnotic – but that feels a lot like splitting hairs.

The bottom line is that ministers are not allowed to have these positions directly or indirectly. So how come that this was apparently not an issue during the screening process? After all, both Duncan-companies are listed as managing director of Hypnotic since February 9, 2009.

Did the minister forget to report this? We don’t know the answer to that one.

We also have a national ordinance for the promotion of integrity among ministers. It’s a lofty piece of legislation but one may well wonder what its practical value is considering Minister Duncan’s situation.

Article 3 of this ordinance states for instance that the prime minister decides, after hearing the minister “which business interests, additional functions and side jobs are undesirable in view of a good fulfillment of the office of minister or the maintenance of the impartiality and independence or the confidence therein.”

It’s quite a mouth full, but basically this article says that the prime minister has a good hard look at the side activities of her ministers and then decides whether these activities are getting in the way of functioning properly. The question is now whether Prime Minister Wescot-Williams has deemed a combination of running a brothel and being minister of justice poses no problem, or that she is unaware of Minister Duncan’s position with Hypnotic.

It gets even better in article 3: the prime minister asks the Council of Advice and the General Audit Chamber for advice about decisions in this field. In other words: these High Councils of State have either been misled (by withholding the correct information) or they have given the prime minister a rather peculiar advice.

Article 3 furthermore states that a minister has to terminate functions that are considered incompatible and that this rule also applies to his or her spouse or partner. If this does not happen, the prime minister has to inform the parliament about the situation.

So far we know this: Minister Duncan’s companies are listed as Hypnotic’s managing director. Even if Hypnotic were in the vodka-business, these functions are incompatible with holding the office of minister – unless we totally misunderstand the Constitution and the national ordinance for the promotion of integrity among ministers.

On paper country St. Maarten has regulated all this stuff just fine. According to Professor Jaime Saleh we don’t need a screening law – and we agree. Such a law would add nothing to what we already have put in place. But as long as everybody happily ignores the rules they remain useless – and in that case we may as well have no rules at all.

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