PHILIPSBURG–Government since 2013 has steadily built up significant arrears to the Prosecutor’s Office that are now threatening to seriously hamper the management operations of the Office. Funding from Government, via the budget of the Justice Ministry, is the only source of funds for the Prosecutor’s Office.
Though confirming to The Daily Herald the existence of the arrears, the Prosecutor’s Office did not give the actual outstanding amount. “The Prosecutor’s Office does not comment in the media on the amount of the payment arrears,” said Gino Bernadina, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office.
He did state the arrears have increased considerably in the past three years. “Since 2013, there has been a backlog in the St. Maarten contribution to the budget of the Prosecutor’s Office. In the meantime, this backlog has increased considerably, which is threatening to seriously hamper the management operations of the Prosecutor’s Office.”
Consultations are ongoing between the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor’s Office to eliminate the payment arrears as soon as possible to ensure the continued operations of the Office.
“At the moment consultations are taking place to eliminate the payment arrears as soon as possible to ensure the operations of the Prosecutor’s Office,” Bernadina said.
Justice Minister Edson Kirindongo is off-island and could not be reached for a comment about the arrears.
Should daily operations of the Prosecutor’s Office cease, numerous ongoing criminal court cases and investigations will be severely affected.
The 2015 Annual Report for the Office of the Attorney-General shows a budgeted amount of NAf. 4 million for the Prosecutor’s Office. Those monies were to cover, according to the Consensus Kingdom Law on the Prosecutor’s Office, automation, management information, housing of one location, security and personnel, and material facilities among other items.
The operations of the Prosecutor’s Offices of St. Maarten, Curaçao and the Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba) are covered by contributions from the countries to the Office of the Attorney-General. Funds are then dispersed to each office “according to a fixed scale based on the influx of cases.”
Government’s mounting arrears has led to the Prosecutor’s Office being kept afloat by funds received from Curaçao and the Netherlands for the Caribbean Netherlands, which are not earmarked for St. Maarten, but for operations of those two entities. This situation can no longer continue as funds are being depleted and what is available is needed for the original allocations to Curaçao and the Caribbean Netherlands.
Government has stated an amount of NAf. 2,594,662 for the Prosecutor’s Office in the 2016 Country Budget. However, the full amount has not been paid to the Office nor is the sum sufficient to cover the regular operations and the arrears from past years.
The Justice Ministry has a stack of unpaid bills from a number of agencies and institutions in the Kingdom and at home, notably Pointe Blanche Prison.
“I have requested assistance for the Prison and I have not received answers yet. Right now, we have no monies to deal with the urgent issues at the Prison,” Kirindongo told this newspaper on Tuesday.
The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) is owed by Government for ballistics checks and other forensics work for the Prosecutor’s Office. NFI has sent several payment reminders to the Justice Ministry on various occasions.
Another substantial amount is owed to the Coast Guard.
The Justice Ministry is responsible for the operational budgets of the Police Force, Prison, Immigration and Border Protection, National Detective Agency, Customs, the Bureau for Unusual Financial Transactions MOT and the Prosecutor’s Office.
The Police’ information software ACTPOL was shut down by the company this year after numerous attempts made by the company to get what was owed to them. The Police were left without the software that linked intelligence between St. Maarten, Curaçao and the Netherlands.
Kirindongo said also on Tuesday, “I am busy requesting the necessary funds from Government to pay off outstanding payments. However, this is not easy as I am not getting any replies from Finance [Ministry – Ed.].”
Asked on Wednesday in the Council of Ministers Press Briefing whether Government has been able to meet all of its financial commitments, Finance Minister Richard Gibson Sr. said all monies were transferred to the seven ministries based on the budget allocations.
“They got to spend up to their limit. If they spend above their limit, of course, that money is not there for them,” Gibson Sr. said.
Source: Daily Herald
Government’s arrears threaten to seriously hamper Prosecutor Office