Progress Committee chairman Ronald Bandell: “Sometimes comments from The Hague are unreasonable”

POSTED: 07/29/13 6:18 PM

Ronald BandellcmykSt. Maarten – By Hilbert Haar – Politicians in The Hague ignore pertinent information about St. Maarten and the decision to close the book on debt relief was unilateral and unfair, says Ronald Bandell, chairman of the Progress Committee St. Maarten: “Sometimes the comments from The Hague are just unreasonable.”

Bandell was in St. Maarten for the presentation of the visitation report about the police force on Friday. How did he experience the past three years as chairman of the Progress Committee? “A strong point is the openness civil servants and cabinet members have shown to the committee. Very good. The advantage of a small community is of course also that it is not possible to hide a lot of things.

“It is also quite pleasant that the will is there to make the difference between the island territory and the country St. Maarten. It was weighed down by Willemstad. There are a lot of people here who says: we are a country now and we are going to make it happen.”

Bandell notes that country-traditions need time to develop. “In the Netherlands we started in 1572. You cannot expect that within three years everything here runs smoothly. Sometimes the comments from The Hague are just unreasonable. A plant does not grow fast by pulling on its leaves. St. Maarten never had its own tasks in the field of justice. They have to build it up from scratch. The settlement of the division of assets and liabilities is also quite complicated.”

Bandell takes the Pointe Blanche prison as an example. “It cannot be so that women, youngsters and TBS-detainees (those that are put at the disposal of the government – ed.) are locked up together. That should have been settled under the regime of the Netherlands Antilles.

The Progress committee chairman acknowledges that the Netherlands struggles with an information-deficit about what is really happening in St. Maarten. “I agree that this is so. In our latest report to Minister Plasterk and Prime Minister Wescot-Williams, we have for instance pointed to the integrity-program. Under the supervision of the Prime Minister, that program has been rolled out across the whole organization and it is done in cooperation with the Integrity bureau of Amsterdam. That is a very good initiative, though it does not mean that all participants are also immediately integer. This program must be known in The Hague. Still they come with remarks as if the government is not paying attention to integrity. That is undeserved.”

The progress committee has more positive news. Bandell: “We are for instance not looking at immigration anymore at all. That issue has been tackled properly under supervision of Udo Aaron. It is really looking good.”

The much-criticized National Detective Agency (Landsrecherche) is also moving in the right direction, Bandell says. “When he started, Doran (head of the agency – ed.) had nothing at all. A chair and a desk at the prosecutor’s office is all he had. If you see that organization now and the number of cases they are working on, the difference is enormous. Having a solicitor-general is also significant progress. An attorney-general would have been better of course, but Stein is directing the agency very well.”

That there are no quick results from the agency’s investigations is logical, Bandell says. “The agency cannot permit itself to make mistakes in the type of cases it is investigating. It has to be done carefully. And I am convinced that they are doing their work carefully.”

In July 2010, Ronald Bandell was appointed as the chairman of the Progress Committee St. Maarten. The committee monitors the plans of approach that have to be executed to strengthen the institutions that have become the island’s responsibility since it obtained the status of autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

With Bandell, the committee brought a politician on board with a rich history. He started his career in the sixties as an assistant accountant and later took a job at the Ministry of culture, Recreation and social Work, where he headed the sensitive Moluccans-department. From 1977 on he served as the mayor of several municipalities – among them Alkmaar (1195-2000) and Dordrecht (2000-2010). He was also, among other functions, corps manager for the police district South-Holland-South – a background that explains his involvement with the visitation committee for the police force in St. Maarten.

In 2005 Bandell was nominated for Best Mayor of the Netherlands; he took the honors for third place that year. On august 23, 2010 Pope Benedictus named him knight in the order of Sint-Sylvester for his efforts in the field of church and community. Bandell was also involved with the Deetman-report about sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church. In 2011 the Dutch Bishops conference and the board of the Conference of Dutch Religious citizens as the quartermaster to implement Deetman’s recommendations for the improvement of procedures at the Catholic complaints bureau Assistance and Justice.

Looking back at the visitation report about the police force, Bandell notes that initially the police was not enthusiast about the idea. “This is the first country in the Kingdom that has dared to do this. Now the reactions from the police are very positive. They really want tom improve. Where they came from they were below zero. Now they have more expertise and more people. Benign citizens must be able to put their trust in the police.”

Bandell is also positive about the plans Justice Minister Dennis Richardson has for the prison. The minister said earlier in an interview with this newspaper that he wants to build one, and possibly two additional floors on top of the existing buildings in Pointe Blanche. “The land belongs to the government,” Bandell says. “With the expansion of the cell-capacity, the situation will go back to normal. That there is a plan for a separate youth facility is also very positive.”

On the downside, Bandell says, there is this: “Sometimes we hear a bit too fast that there is no money to execute the plans of approach. However, the awareness that they have to be executed is there now and we appreciate that. We are prepared to listen if the government wants to organize certain aspects differently. We are open for alternative solutions – but always after consultation. Then it is possible.”

That members of parliament and cabinet members still have a lot to learn about running a country is a given. “People must always be prepared to learn,” Bandell says. “How does the Council of Minister function? Are we able to do things differently and better? Is it effective? You always have to ask yourself those questions. The same goes for the parliament.”

Asked about a weakness, Bandell ventures into a field that falls beyond the scope of the Progress committee. “The financial situation. A government that has its administration in order helps. That is a point of attention. Debt relief is also a weakness that leaves its footprint. The decision to close the book is a unilateral decision from the Netherlands. Finance Minister Hassink is giving this his attention. Possibly the government could get an authoritative ruling about this issue.  Why did St. Maarten not get more of its debt relief? Because the book is closed. But that is not a real reason. There is much dissatisfaction about this. People do not see this as a decent ending.”

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