PHILIPSBURG–Caretaker Prime Minister Rafael Boasman gave an insight into the content of the draft national ordinance for an Integrity Chamber when it was tabled in a meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament on Friday afternoon.
The draft proposes that the Chamber be established as an independent governing body “with legal personality.” The Chamber’s role will be to conduct administrative investigations and to render advice to Government. Investigations will target administrative entities, which can lead to “binding advices” being given and charges with administrative fines.
Government bodies, government companies and officials employed by or attached to these entities will be subject to investigation by the Chamber. Persons doing business with these entities can also be heard as witnesses. Investigations can be conducted based on a request, on the initiative of the Integrity Chamber or based on integrity breaches.
The Integrity Chamber will not be engaged in criminal investigation, as this is the task of the Prosecutor’s Office.
Boasman told Members of Parliament (MPs) that the Chamber will have the authority to impose sanctions. “There are possibilities where this can happen. If someone is asked to appear and give information and they fail to do so, then they can be summoned, pressured or even be forced to appear,” he told MPs.
He said also that if criminal acts are uncovered during an investigation, these will be turned over to the Prosecutor’s Office, which will determine the next course of action. “The Integrity Chamber is not there to investigate criminal offences.”
Apart from its administrative authority, the Integrity Chamber also has the authority to render advice.
The Chamber will comprise three members: one appointed by the Council of Ministers in St. Maarten, one by the Council of Ministers in the Netherlands and jointly the two would nominate a third person to be appointed by the Kingdom Council of Ministers, who would serve as the Chairperson of the Chamber.
The Chamber would also have a secretariat. A Supervisory Council will also be appointed for the Chamber in the same manner in which the members will be appointed. Their job would be to supervise the functioning and the workings of the Integrity Chamber.
Provisions are made in the draft for an evaluation to take place of the Integrity Chamber’s functioning.
One of the “far-reaching changes” made to the current draft, in comparison to the previous version, include the roles of the Dutch and Kingdom Governments in appointing members of the Integrity Chamber. Another change is for more administrative authority to be given to the Integrity Chamber which can be used in investigations.
Reintroduced to the draft ordinance was the decision to make the advice from the Integrity Chamber binding, with the only possibility for an administrative body being investigated to deviate from such binding advice is with “a clear, sound and solid motivation.”
Also, the criterion for Integrity Chamber members to be registered in St. Maarten was removed from the draft based on a direct request from Holland, which believes that such a criterion was unnecessarily restrictive in finding suitable candidates to become members of the Chamber.
The current draft has passed through the Council of Advice, which rendered an advice received by Government on November 27. Boasman said Government had made some “minor technical changes” to the draft based on this advice.
He said the only change to content is that in the event an administrative body that had been investigated fails to react within four weeks to a binding advice from the Integrity Chamber, it is to be sent a second notification giving it two additional weeks to respond. If no reaction to the second notice is given, then the notification “will become a fictional administrative act” by the competent authority.
Boasman said Government will receive copies of advices and second notifications sent to administrative entities to safeguard that a reaction is rendered. This is for the legal protection of persons affected by binding advices.
Several MPs present at Friday’s meeting reacted strongly to the draft.
United People’s (UP) party MP Franklin Meyers, for example, took issue with the use of the term “binding advice” in the draft ordinance, calling it an oxymoron. He said an advice can either be followed or not followed, as it is an advice and cannot at the same time be binding. If the intention is for it to be binding, Meyers suggested that it be changed to instruction.
National Alliance (NA) MP George Pantophlet said he could not support the draft unless it can be confirmed that St. Maarten will receive the 550-million-euro aid promised by the Dutch. The passing of the Integrity Chamber law is one of two conditions set by the Dutch for St. Maarten to receive the aid.
United St. Maarten (US) Party MP Frans Richardson said he felt ill knowing that MPs from the new coalition of eight had agreed to the draft “without having a clue” as to its content. He said also that ministers in Holland should not dictate what laws St. Maarten should or should not pass.
Several other MPs also weighed in on the matter and/or posed questions to Minister Boasman.