SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Earlier this week, the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (Ministry of VROMI) was presented with the final report of the Systemic Investigation on the Solid Waste Collection Tender (SWC) (2021-2026), which concludes the investigation by the Ombudsman. The Systemic Investigation was embarked when two bidders that participated in the SWC tender filed official complaints at the office of the Ombudsman concerning the outcome said tender.
Prior to commencing the investigation, the Ombudsman requested the Ministry to respond to the complaints filed which the Ministry complied with, and the Ombudsman subsequently decided to start a systemic investigation into the SWC tender process. It is important to note that it is the prerogative of the Ombudsman, based on the National Ordinance of the Ombudsman to start to start a systemic investigation into the work of Government, regardless as to whether a complaint is filed or not.
During the process of the Systemic Investigation, the Ministry provided the feedback as requested by the Ombudsman along with additional information beyond what was requested by the Ombudsman to ensure a complete and thorough investigation. For several months during the investigation, a multitude of documents and correspondences was shared between the Ministry and the office Ombudsman. During this period, the Ombudsman and staff members were extended an invitation by the Ministry to in order to discuss and provide clarity into the many documentations in multiple boxes that were submitted by the Ministry. Although the mentioned invitation by the Ministry was declined by the Ombudsman, the Ministry thereafter suggested providing in-person feedback on the documents, but this offer was also declined by the Ombudsman. “It is therefore unfortunate to now read that the Ombudsman finds that the Minister refused to provide certain information, while many attempts were made at doing just that” Minister Doran eluded.
The Ministry is of the opinion that it has provided the requested documentation as well as additional documentation to the Ombudsman and that it has therefore complied with the investigation of the Ombudsman.
During said Systemic Investigation, the Department of Infrastructure, Cabinet, the act. Secretary-General and the Minister of VROMI were invited to meetings at the Ombudsman’s office. These meetings took place in the format of an interrogation and were attended by all invited whereby answers to the questions posed by the Ombudsman and colleagues were provided.
At these meetings, the Ombudsman recorded the hearings but refused to allow the persons invited to hearings to also record the hearings. Requests for copies of the recordings after the conclusion of the hearings were also not honored; even after all persons were heard. The Ombudsman was made aware that her stance on the recording of persons and specifically not allowing them to also record in return, is in violation of the rules set forth by other Ombudsman colleagues and offices (see www.nationaleombudsman.nl and the report (rapport 2014/166) published by the National Ombudsman in 2014 (in the Netherlands).
It is also noteworthy that the report of the Ombudsman includes a section on post-awarding of the SWC contracts. The Ministry does not align itself with this section as it falls completely out of the scope of the investigation as indicated by the Ombudsman. When an entity which has been awarded a parcel in the SWC does not live up to their expectations based on the contract in place, then the Ministry should act according to in clauses in the contract for enforcement. Enforcement of a contract is a right afforded to a party in a contract; it does not indicate an issue with the awarding of said contract.
The duration of contracts is known when they are entered into by parties. The Ministry works to avoid allowing the terms of contracts to lapse, thereby allowing those who were awarded contracts under a previous tender, to continue working under expired contracts. This puts undue pressure on the budget, and it also provides those with existing contracts an added benefit of collecting funds beyond the duration of their contract. It also goes against article 47 of the ‘Comptabiliteitslandsverordening’.
It was for this reason that the Department of Infrastructure was reminded that time was of the essence with preparing the necessary tasks related to executing the tendering process.
When the then department head requested the Minister of VROMI for additional manpower, the Minister responded by providing the requested help. It is no secret that the Ministry of VROMI (among others) is short-staffed. The Ministry has been working diligently, within the confines of what is possible to fill vacancies to improve services rendered. As many may know, recently a job mixer was held to recruit potential candidates which was well attended and have provided some solid candidates for said vacancies.
Prior to the awarding of contracts for the SWC tender, the process went through the Department of Infrastructure Section of Contracts, the Dept. Head of Infrastructure Management, the financial controller, the act. Secretary-General, Cabinet, Councils of Ministers and was checked and verified by the Governor and his cabinet. For this reason, the Ministry of VROMI respectfully does not share the position of the Ombudsman that the tender was neither fair nor transparent. The Ministry was requested to provide feedback to the preliminary findings of the report and complied also indicating that the report of the Ombudsman was found to be incomplete in details and therefore affecting the conclusions and outcome of said report. The Ombudsman has included the letter sent by the Ministry as a response to the report in question, but the Ministry has noted that the Ombudsman did not provide any feedback on said response in her final report.
“Despite not agreeing on the final report of the Ombudsman, it is abundantly clear that the Ministry and Ombudsman share (among others) one main and similar goal, to promote good governance. A tender procedural document was prepared in December 2021, which is used within the Ministry and applied to each tender. It is good to see that the Ombudsman shares this initiative of the Ministry in her recommendations. The Ministry will discuss this report internally and provide feedback to the Ombudsman on her suggestions made in her report.”
The Ministry of VROMI will continue to work endlessly on improving in all areas as well as continue to uphold the good governance which is being pursued by the Government of Sint Maarten. In closing the Ministry of VROMI looks forward to great cooperation between the two entities.