Minister Kirindongo resolute to improve justice step-by-step

By Suzanne Koelega

THE HAGUE–With the limited financial resources available, St. Maarten Justice Minister Edson Kirindongo is making progress, be it in small steps, to achieve improvements at two urgent parts of the justice sector: the St. Maarten Police Force KPSM and Pointe Blanche Prison. The efforts are valued by the Dutch Government, Kirindongo noted during his visit to the Netherlands this week.

Upon his appointment late January 2016, Kirindongo (58), a former National Detective who permanently lives in St. Maarten since 2010, decided that he would make the most of his new challenge, despite the scarce finances and the limited possibilities of achieving grand improvements in the local justice sector.

“The financial situation is tough. Many of the personnel in the justice sector have been left behind where it comes to securing their function by National Decree, while they have worked very hard for it. There is no financial compensation when they should receive so,” Kirindongo told The Daily Herald earlier this week.

The KPSM and prison lack material to work with. Training and understaffing remain a problem. This has been underscored by the St. Maarten Progress Committee in its regular reports. The Committee, with whom Kirindongo met this week, has been especially critical of the lack of improvement at the Pointe Blanche Prison. “Too little progress has been made. There is a lot of work to do,” said the Minister.

Kirindongo, very much aware of these shortcomings, has made the prison his top priority. Security of the prisoners and personnel, the severe understaffing and the strengthening of management are key aspects. “The upgrading of the prison, both in quality and quantity, have been important aspects during my talks in the Netherlands,” said the Minister.

A Change Manager, Richinel Martina, was appointed recently. Martina will work alongside Prison Director Edward Rohan, under the direct supervision of the Justice Minister. Kirindongo emphasizes that Rohan will remain the director. Martina will address the existing bottlenecks on all levels and draft plans how to tackle these. He will work in a manner that is aimed at finding solutions and file periodic reports.

Prison personnel require urgent attention. Therefore, shortly after his appointment, Kirindongo held motivational talks with personnel, with positive results. “People appreciated this. They felt that they were heard.” Some members of personnel on sick- leave have indicated that they want to come back to work, be it under certain conditions.

The physical improvement of the prison is an ongoing process, which has been slowed down due to financial constraints of Country St. Maarten. The first phase has been completed and the next phase is on the priority list. This subsequent phase would include modifications to the entrance and the construction of a fence to increase security.

Kirindongo said his talks in The Hague were “very positive.” Main agenda point of the meeting with Dutch Minister of Security and Justice Ard van der Steur was KPSM and especially the prison.

Kirindongo said that the Dutch authorities appreciated the positive attitude and the willingness of the St. Maarten delegation to work on the shortcomings that have been observed in the Plans of Approach. “We said that we are doing what we can with whatever limited options that we have. Our input was appreciated.”

A meeting with the St. Maarten Progress Committee was deemed positive as well. “They listened, showed understanding and respect, also for the limited actions from our side due to the financial constraints,” said the Minister.

On April 11 and 12, meetings will take place in St. Maarten with the local justice sector partners and Dutch civil servants to discuss the status of the Plans of Approach of the prison and KPSM and how to progress on this matter. The meetings should result in a proposal regarding the Plans of Approach.

Reflecting on his new job as Justice Minister, Kirindongo said that it was a “beautiful, challenging job” that required complete dedication. “You have to do it with your heart and soul. You have to give everything, be honest, take fair decisions and saying no without necessarily hurting people.”

Kirindongo’s working life and his attitude have been that of a detective. First, as a detective in his native Curaçao. After completing the Police Academy in 2004, he became team leader of the money laundering unit and in 2009 head of the tactical detective unit. He regularly visited St. Maarten since 1996 while working at the National Detectives (Landsrecherche) until permanently moving to St. Maarten in 2010.

“My work starts the moment I get up. As a detective I was always used to solving crime problems that I was confronted with on a daily basis. Solution-oriented thinking and handling has always been part of my job. Only this time, as a Minister, it is in another working area. I want to apply my education, know-how and strategy.”

Achieving his goal is imperative. “In the past it was locking up criminals. Now it is safety and security for the people and visitors of St. Maarten. I know that I can do something extra for St. Maarten. That has always been my attitude: doing extra things without asking money for it; as long as I can achieve results.”

Kirindongo was appointed as a business, professional minister, without political affiliations. “I am here as a manager to get things done.” Staying on as minister after the September elections is certainly something that he is willing to consider

Source: The Daily Herald Minister Kirindongo resolute to improve justice step-by-step