Opinion: The clock starts ticking today

POSTED: 10/4/13 1:56 PM

Is it fair what that darned Dutch government is doing to St. Maarten? Depends whom you ask, we figure. The predominant sentiment in the cabinet is of course that Minister Plasterk – guided by his puppet master Mark Rutte – has pulled a fast one and that there are “no legal grounds” for instructing the governor to order an integrity investigation.

It has been called an ambush (by Progress Committee chairman (Ronald Bandell), illegal and neocolonial (by Prime Minister Wescot-Williams and Justice Minister Dennis Richardson). But at the end of the day, the royal decree has been published in the Staatscourant. The clock starts ticking today: between now and six months the governor’s cabinet has to produce a report for the Kingdom Council of Ministers and Plasterk has made one thing clear: everybody is obliged to cooperate.

The six month term seems to be a rather narrow window, given the fact that the governor’s cabinet still has to find investigators that are equipped to conduct the investigation. Whoever is going to get the job will also want clear terms of reference to make sure there is no misunderstanding about what needs to be investigated. The royal decree is rather vague on this point.

There is one remarkable detail in the explanatory notes with the royal decree. We refer here to the statement from Minister Plasterk that he has spoken on a regular basis with Prime Minister Wescot-Williams about the concerns the Kingdom Council of Ministers has about good governance in St. Maarten.

On April 4, Plasterk sent Wescot-Williams a letter. He asked about the concrete measures the government has in mind to address these concerns. The answer was not satisfactory (according to Plasterk). And lo and behold: in the very month of April, Wescot-Williams contacted Transparency International to conduct a National Integrity System assessment.

It is therefore true that the government did take concrete action, but that must have been after the letter Plasterk sent on April 4. How long would it take to come to an agreement with Transparency International? Two months? Three?

Whatever that term may be, it remains a fact that the government dragged its feet – it lacked the sense of urgency that could have kept the Kingdom Council of Ministers happy and an instruction to the governor at bay.

First there was the question who should pay for the Transparency International investigation. The Prime Minister said that this could not come straight from the government coffers –even though Curacao had no problem last year doing exactly that when it entered into its contract with the global integrity watchdog.

A formal announcement that the contract with TI was firm and that the government was going to go ahead with it was never made – unless we missed something. A formal announcement about where the funding for the assessment comes from was never made either – again, unless we missed something.

Only in the very week when the Kingdom Council of Minister placed the instruction to the governor on its agenda did the TI-initiative resurface. We’ve always thought that this was too little, too late. Had the government presented a firm deal with TI in, say, July when Prime Minister Rutte was here, the Kingdom Council of Ministers would have had a hard time doing what it has done now.

But in July there was a plan to do the TI-assessment. There is also an ongoing across the board integrity program for the government apparatus. The only thing missing: clear results. That is precisely what must have ticked off the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

On the other hand, and PM Wescot-Williams may have a point there, The Hague is also clearly irritated with St. Maarten about the turnover tax it levies on goods that go to Saba and Statia. Not our fault, Wescot-Williams has repeatedly said: St. Maarten did not introduce new taxes after 10-10-10. Also, the turnover tax is not an added value tax, though it stands to reason to assume that companies include these costs in the prices they are charging for their goods and services.

An element that has not been brought to the party yet is the political situation in the Netherlands. The party that constantly fuels the anti-Caribbean sentiment in The Hague – Geert wilders’ PVV – is riding high in the polls and the governing coalition has been nearly obliterated in the same polls. With austerity measures the order of the day, Rutte could do with some political heroics and in that sense, St. Maarten is obviously an easy target.

If the Dutch cabinet falls one of these months – and those chances are real – Rutte can go back to the electorate saying how tough he’s been with that tiny autonomous country in the Caribbean, even though we figure that St. Maarten and Curacao will never become a hot topic in the battle for voters in the Netherlands.

But still, the Rutte-cabinet wanted to do something and now the Wescot-Williams cabinet will have to deal with the consequences. Is obstructing the investigation a realistic option? As a battle cry it sounds rather heroic, but when push comes to shove we figure that our politicians would be wise not to maneuver their civil servants into such an awkward position

Did we have it coming, this investigation? Sadly, we have to conclude that the answer to this question is yes. While Plasterk mentions in his explanatory notes the breakdown of the Border Management System as one of the issues, we figure that former Justice Minister Roland Duncan’s established ties to the prostitution industry must also have raised a few eyebrows.

A justice minister that dabbles in prostitution is not something one expects from a decent government in a constitutional state. But what did the cabinet do when this newspaper published the irrefutable proof that Duncan indeed was up to his eyeballs in the working girls industry? In public absolutely nothing. Instead, Prime Minister Wescot-Williams once famously referred to Duncan’s ties to prostitution as “rumors.”

Members of Parliament kept their heads down too – coalition and opposition members alike. And now we are supposed to be outraged because the Kingdom Council of Ministers has instructed the governor to order an integrity investigation? Really?

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Comments (1)


  1. Marsha says:

    Is todaysmn news all of a sudden changing from a independent,critical newspaper to a slave of the Maffia-government? Shame on you !