St. Maarten Parliament keeps silent on integrity-assessment

POSTED: 01/15/15 2:23 PM

St. Maarten – It is easy to lose sight of a 250-page integrity report, but this is exactly what seems to be happening at this moment. Reason for Today to revisit the PricewaterhouseCoopers integrity-probe and to refresh the memory about the areas the researchers recommended for future analysis.

The issue that stands out, and has gained momentum due to recent developments concerning politicians, is the Parliament. The inquiry team has proposed as a major priority to conduct “a targeted integrity assessment of St. Maarten’s Parliament.”

So far, no Member of Parliament has reacted to this suggestion, but the actions of some parliamentarians speak louder than their silence. First of all, there is UP-MP Silvio Matser. The Court in First Instance sentenced him last week to 24 months of imprisonment and 240 hours of community service for – simply put – tax fraud. On that same day, somebody who just missed a seat in Parliament was in court on suspicion of membership of a criminal organization, fraud and forgery – Maria Buncamper-Molanus. She was also a candidate for the UP in last year’s elections. If Matser ever has to give up his seat because of his conviction, Buncamper-Molanus stands to take his place.

This year we will also see the return of (now former) independent MP Patrick Illidge – accused of accepting $150,000 in bribes from Bada Bing owner Jaap van den Heuvel.

These examples show that the body politics does not exclusively consist of straightforward citizens.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers researchers found that people they interviewed “expressed grave concerns about the Parliament and its capacity, effectiveness, and commitment to integrity. Parliament controls the appointment of the Council of Ministers and, as such, should be reviewed against the inquiry team’s integrity architecture to ensure that its members are working in the country’s general interest and not for personal gain.”

Exactly that point Governor Holiday addressed in his New Year’s speech last Friday when he said that there was too much focus in 2014 on “what is in it for me and not on what is in it for Country St. Maarten.”

While the governor did not explicitly mentioned politicians or the Parliament in this remark, the statement fits Parliament like a glove. Politicians from different parties have committed themselves to looking seriously at the recommendations from this and other integrity-reports. So far, the idea of submitting the Parliament to yet another integrity-investigation must seem a bridge too far, otherwise someone would have made some noise about it. However, the year is still young and a lot could happen in the next couple of months.

Another interesting suggestion from the report is to do forensic investigations and operational audits at government-owned companies. The report specifically mentions the Bureau Telecommunication and Post and the Harbor Group of Companies. “The government should assert itself as the sole owner of these companies and demand that they comply with any and all investigations, inquiries and request for information.”

The tax system has long been a topic of debate and the PricewaterhouseCoopers team once more recommends to bring in experts for a comprehensive assessment of the current system, the current compliance of businesses and citizens, and to make recommendations for increasing compliance.

The last time the government brought in experts the project ended in a drama. Remember Taxand?

Another issue brought up is money laundering. The report notes that there is a lack of oversight for casinos and other cash-heavy businesses. Of course, something ought to be done. The first step would be the establishment of the Gaming Control Board. For reasons unknown, the government just does not manage to bring this about – and the establishment of such a body has been thrown around for years, if not for decades. Apparently, the power of the casino operators runs deeper than what meets the eye.

A rather alarming point, sunk deep into the report on page 197, is about the quality of St. Maarten’s drinking water. Senior officials of a government owned company (that has to be utilities company Gebe) told investigators that a major water producer in St. Maarten (that would be Seven Seas Water, formerly Air Finn ) is not producing the quality of water it as agreed to in contracts.”

While this ought to be a darn good reason for immediate action, another quirk is rather interesting: “the water distribution company has been locked into agreements to distribute water of a higher quality than the distributor is required to produce.”

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