PHILIPSBURG–The office of the Ombudsman will be giving preference to complaints made in the coming period that relate to recovery, rebuilding and relief in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Recently reappointed Ombudsman Nilda Lynch-Arduin told reporters at a press conference Thursday that fast-track investigations will be conducted into these complaints and she urged the public to submit “substantial” complaints in these areas.
“It is clear that we are in a state of crisis and it should be obvious that ‘business as usual’ cannot apply in this stage,” she said.
“As such, our focus will be on monitoring the relief, recovery and rebuilding procedures, using the mandate of the Ombudsman provided for by law to supervise and promote propriety in the allocation of material and services in the recovery and rebuilding stages of the country. We will evaluate policies and procedures, as well as identify bottlenecks, and recommend on eliminating procedural hurdles.”
The Ombudsman’s office had been working over the past weeks on gathering information regarding the various relief efforts by Government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to facilitate referrals when approached by the public.
“Considering that all attention is required to rebuild the country, we understand that the focus of Government and the civil servants are geared towards relief, recovery and rebuilding. Ongoing cases are therefore being reviewed to terminate the investigations with recommendations to Government to properly deal with them,” she explained. The public is requested to file substantial complaints regarding relief, recovery and rebuilding promptly with the Ombudsman.”
She stressed that complaints will not be handled normally, as it is not the intention to just investigate why a complainant did not receive requested relief. The Ombudsman plans to scrutinise the selection procedures to keep “a close eye” on how the various registration lists, applications and procedures are dealt with.
“A fast-track investigation will apply. Transparency, fairness and accountability should be the guiding elements of the relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts,” she said.
Complaints regarding concerns related to the recent hurricanes that have important consequences for the livelihood of a complainant will be investigated immediately. Concerns that are not related to the recent hurricanes will be put on hold.
The Ombudsman applauded the Ministries and Government agencies that had been forthcoming and informed the public of what they can expect from both Government and the private sector.
She alluded to the Ministry of Labour, which had issued a statement about the rights of employees and the obligations of employers, and Social and Health Insurances SZV that has been publishing measures in managing the crisis. She called on all entities for their cooperation and urged them to send the Ombudsman their guidelines and requirements to provide relief and assistance to the public. This will enable the Ombudsman to refer the public to the right entities for assistance.
She urged Government and NGOs to share as many tips and as much information as possible with the public through the media about how persons can access relief items distributed by them; in particular the Rent Committee, St Maarten Housing and Development Foundation and NGOs such as the Red Cross and Voluntary Corps St. Maarten VKS.
Transparency and clarity, she noted, are required when it comes to what the public may expect.
“Though assessments are not yet completed, I call upon the Ministry of [Public Health, Labour and Social Affairs – Ed,] VSA to look into shortened emergency procedures to address the financial, social and emotional wellbeing of the people – procedures regarding legal aid for those who might have to address the court pertaining to labour or housing issues,” she said.
“The Ministry of [Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure – Ed.] VROMI regarding debris and garbage removal in areas difficult to access by private persons, to preserve the environment in the long term; building permits and more.
“I call upon the public in general to be tolerant towards each other and let the general interest prevail above our personal interests. We need to remember that apart from our own bad situation, there are those who are worse off and even so there are those who lost everything and are worst off.
“‘First come, first serve’ may not always be the norm today, but the needs of the most vulnerable and the hardest hit should prevail. Those who are able or well-connected will most likely be registered on top of the lists, but may not necessarily be the most vulnerable among us.”