~ And Knops willingness to be flexible with St. Maarten ~
PHILIPSBURG–The Government of St. Maarten did an about-face in its stance on the conditions set by the Dutch Government for recovery aid for St. Maarten and will now agree to the conditions, based on the advice it recently received from the Council of Advice on its draft Integrity Chamber law.
Government’s decision was also based on the willingness of new Dutch State Secretary for Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops to reopen the lines of communication and be flexible with St. Maarten and his hopefulness for an accord with the country.
Based on the recommendations from the local Council of Advice, Government will adapt its draft Integrity Chamber law giving the Dutch Government the authority to appoint a member and will also agree to strengthening of the presence of Royal Netherlands Marechaussees (Dutch military police) and Customs Officers in St. Maarten for border control and their reporting to the Kingdom Government.
A letter to this effect has been sent to Knops as well as to the Kingdom Council of State, to which St. Maarten had to report to by November 1 on the issue. “In the letters we are saying that we agree [to the conditions – Ed.] because our Council of Advice stated that the protocol was an agreement between the Dutch and St. Maarten Governments,” Marlin said. “Based on the decision we [Council of Ministers – Ed.] have taken, we do not see what other issues the Dutch Government will have now,” Marlin told reporters at a press conference held Monday evening.
Marlin said the local Council of Advice has stated that St. Maarten should follow the protocol signed with the Dutch Government as it is a valid agreement, which St. Maarten had executed by drafting an Integrity Chamber law that was sent to Parliament and approved. Although the Constitutional Court took issue with that version of the Integrity Chamber law, it only rejected “two or three points,” not all the points. The Kingdom Council of State in its July ruling also urged Government to come with a new ordinance taking into account the ruling of the Constitutional Court.
Marlin said in the new draft Integrity Chamber law that St. Maarten recently devised, provisions were not included for the Dutch to appoint anyone to the chamber as had been originally agreed. It was instead proposed that binding nominations would be made by the Court of First Instance, the Ombudsman and the General Audit Chamber.
Based on the recommendations by the local Council of Advice, the Government of St. Maarten will now amend the draft Integrity Chamber law to reflect what was originally agreed to in the protocol: that the Dutch Government would nominate a candidate (the chairperson), the St. Maarten Government will appoint a candidate and that both candidates would nominate a candidate to the Kingdom Council of Ministers, who would then be appointed by Kingdom Decree. Also, the reporting to the Kingdom Council of Ministers, which was already agreed upon, in the opinion of the Council of Advice, should be adhered to.
As far as the issue of border control is concerned, Marlin said since this is part of the protocol signed in 2015, making provisions for a flex pool agreement where the Dutch Government would make border control officers available to the country and these officers having been here for several years now, the strengthening of their presence can be expanded upon. “We are saying that it is already in place. We will agree to add more Marechaussees. We will also agree for them to make Customs Officers available, but at all times, we must ensure that the constitutional integrity will remain intact, which means that these things must fall under the responsibility of the Ministry in St. Maarten. This is the decision that the Government of St. Maarten has taken and it has been communicated to the Dutch Government and to the Kingdom Council of State.”
He said also that St. Maarten will attempt to have a working conference in mid-November to iron out the details of the aid to St. Maarten including how it will be packaged and executed.
Regarding the letter sent to the Kingdom Council of State, Marlin said it was agreed that St. Maarten would have done its utmost to have the integrity legislation completed by October 31 (today), but in the event that it is not completed, Government would report back to the Kingdom Council of State by November 1 (tomorrow), on the progress that has been made. Marlin said before hurricane Irma, he wrote the Dutch Government and the Kingdom Council of State explaining that St. Maarten had already prepared a draft Integrity Chamber law, which was sent to Governor Eugene Holiday on September 1, and forwarded to the local Council of Advice on September 3.
The Council of Advice received it on September 4, and St. Maarten was struck by Hurricane Irma on September 6. The hurricane destroyed the office of the Council of Advice as well as damaged the Parliament and the new Government Building. “Since our agreement was that we have to report back by November 1, we are reporting back in the letter explaining the actions that we have taken.”
Marlin said the intention is to have a newly adjusted Integrity Chamber ordinance presented to Parliament by mid-November. Marlin stressed that St. Maarten never said it does not want aid or will not agree to accept aid as aid was already accepted, but always said the conditions had nothing to do with aid.
He said also that “the new State Secretary seems to be willing and flexible to have discussion with St. Maarten. I have indicated in my letter to [former Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald – Ed.] Plasterk that the St. Maarten Government is willing and ready to hold talks, but their position then was if you don’t agree, we are not talking. That is what created the situation that developed over the past week and the impression being created that Marlin doesn’t want aid,” he said.
He said also that Government respects the recommendations made by the Council of Advice. “We respect the advice given, but we also noted that the focus has to be on the people of St. Maarten on rebuilding St. Maarten, but interestingly it is dammed if you do, damned if you don’t. If we had said yes to the first proposal, the headlines would have been that the Government of St. Maarten sold us out and immediately agreed to the conditions. Our position has been clear and has not changed: we are willing to accept aid, but the new advice we received from the Council of Advice and with the new State Secretary, who said he is hopeful to work things out with St. Maarten, in the interest of St. Maarten, this is what the Government has decided to do.”