‘Law enforcement St. Maarten requires permanent attention’ | THE DAILY HERALD

~ Says Knops who visited the prison last week ~

THE HAGUE–Law enforcement in St. Maarten is a permanent matter of attention and requires the commitment of the St. Maarten government to make the necessary investments. The Netherlands is willing to assist, but not forever, said Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops.

The state secretary was in St. Maarten a week and a half ago to talk about two cardinal issues with local authorities: rebuilding the island after Hurricane Irma, in particular the waste disposal site or the dump, and the strengthening of law enforcement. He had a so-called Ministerial Consultation, a meeting with Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin and Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever, and he visited the Pointe Blanche prison.

The state of law enforcement has little relation to last year’s hurricanes. “Surely there was damage to the police station and the prison, but the problems that lie underneath already existed and have become more exposed,” Knops told The Daily Herald earlier this week.

The prison walls have been repaired and other measures have been taken to increase security for both the inmates and prison personnel. The Dutch prison officers, dispatched to St. Maarten right after Hurricane Irma to help secure the prison, have returned to the Netherlands, according to plan.

Knops expressed appreciation for the hard-working prison personnel. “I was very impressed by the work of the prison guards, most of whom were female, and the amount of work that they do with a limited number of personnel.”

Within short, close to 50 inmates with long prison sentences who were transferred to Curaçao and the Netherlands after the hurricane will be returning to St. Maarten. Asked if it wasn’t a good idea to keep some of the most dangerous inmates in the Netherlands, Knops said that it was not up to him to decide which prisoners return since this was a matter for the justice authorities.

Housing the St. Maarten prisoners in the Netherlands has a hefty price tag, said the state secretary. “We helped out because there was an emergency situation after the hurricane and there was danger of inmates escaping. When I was at the Pointe Blanche prison, I was under the impression that they are unable to receive the prisoners back and that preparations are being made.

It is a fact that the prison building is outdated, and the Justice minister is preparing plans for a new penitentiary, but the funds for that sizeable project will not come from the Recovery Trust Fund. The Trust Fund is for St. Maarten’s recovery, to make the island more resilient against future hurricanes, and it is not for the permanent construction of the law enforcement system, said Knops.

The state secretary has urged the St. Maarten government to make the necessary funds available in the country’s budget for the prison plans which include the construction of a new facility or an extensive renovation of the existing building. Whatever the local government decides to do, it is an expensive, complex undertaking. The exploitation costs of this renewed facility also need to be included in the budget.

Funding the prison reconstruction project is most certainly not the task of the Netherlands, but of the Country St. Maarten. “I keep calling on the St. Maarten government to reserve sufficient means in the budget for law enforcement, the prison and the police tasks. When St. Maarten attained country status on October 10, 2010, it was agreed that justice would be a national task,” said Knops.

The state secretary said that the Dutch government was willing to assist, and is already doing so by providing police officers, but not forever. “But ultimately it is up to St. Maarten to fulfil this task.” As for the border control, Knops said that the cooperation with the Royal Dutch Marechaussee was doing well.

Asked about the establishing of the St. Maarten Integrity Chamber, one of the preconditions of the Dutch financial assistance for the island’s reconstruction, Knops said the Integrity Chamber unfortunately was not operational as yet.

The state secretary explained that a number of procedures have to be concluded, including the screening of the proposed members of the Integrity Chamber and its supervisory board. “I have indicated that I find it very important that the Integrity Chamber starts soon. We are a year down the road and it was one of our preconditions.”

Further delay is not acceptable for Knops. “We can’t have that all the reconstruction funds have been allocated through the World Bank and that there is still no Integrity Chamber. That would be too late. We need the Integrity Chamber to be up and running by the end of this year.” One of the tasks of the Integrity Chamber is to check whether reconstruction projects are carried out properly.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/80648-law-enforcement-st-maarten-requires-permanent-attention