St. Maarten Government publishes reaction to Wit-report: Parliament gets to play its part in integrity actionsPOSTED: 08/29/14 2:47 AM
St. Maarten – The Council of Minister published yesterday its reaction to Doing the Right Things Right, the report from the Wit-Committee about Integrity in Public Administration. The reaction shows indeed that the government has embraced the report’s recommendations. The execution of five of the forty recommendations require the cooperation of the parliament.
The government writes in its reaction that it will establish a progress committee tasked with monitoring the execution of the recommendations.
The recommendation to establish a public register for paid and unpaid additional functions and activities of parliamentarians is one of the issues that the Council of Ministers puts squarely on the plate of the Parliament. The same goes for recording the assets of parliamentarians shortly after they take office and shortly after they leave.
“It is not up to the government, but primarily up to the Parliament to take a position on these recommendations,” the Council of Ministers notes in its reaction. “The government is always prepared to engage in talks with the Parliament about this and it awaits an invitation for it. If such a dialogue leads to the conclusion that legislation needs to be amended, the government will cooperate with this where necessary.”
Recording the assets of parliamentarians is not only about integrity but also about issues of privacy in a small community, the Council of Ministers writes. A public code of conduct for parliamentarians is also a matter for parliament, the reaction states.
An important recommendation is about the screening of ministers. The Council of Ministers will create one comprehensive screening of ministers that will take place prior to their appointment. The current screening requires ministers to submit information within 30 days of taking office for screening purposes. “The minister of general affairs will have the necessary legislation prepared whereby the example from Curacao could serve as the basis. In the meantime, the existing legislation will have to be executed literally.”
The recommendations to hold parliamentary debates about the baseline study institutional integrity report from the General Audit Chamber and about annual reports from high councils of state are, according to the reaction, for Parliament to decide.
One of the few recommendations that have met with resistance is about the office space the government is leasing in the private sector. The Wit-Committee recommended publishing all information about these buildings – including the names of owners and the lease prices – on a website. While the government has made an overview of these buildings, it will not make the information public, fearing that it will narrow its space to negotiate and that it could endanger the government’s competitive position.
The government will research the desirability to abolish the Corporate Governance Council and to integrate it in a yet to be established Integrity Chamber.
Strengthening the National Detective Agency has the government’s support. This year the agency will get four more detectives and next year another four. “The cooperation with the Netherlands is not without problems,” the government notes. “Requests for temporary additional support for operations of the NDA have not yielded any results. This process has been underway for eight months. On the other hand, St. Maarten has immediately given support to the BES and to Curacao. Aruba appeared able to provide immediate support to St. Maarten.”
The government embraces the recommendation that directors of government-owned companies must step down as soon as they become the subject of a criminal investigation. The government will ask legal advice about the way this could be included in statutes and contracts. The Justice Minister will speak with the prosecutor’s office and the National Detective Agency about reasonable terms for such investigations, so that they will not drag on for too long.
The recommendation to publish all information about permits could go nowhere, even though the government states that it accepts this idea. However, the government “will investigate in which way information about permits is made public, taking the privacy of citizens into account.” The Wit-committee however recommended publishing the names of people who have requested and obtained permits.