Parliament passes law to establish Integrity Chamber

PHILIPSBURG–The law to establish an Integrity Chamber for the country was adopted by Parliament on Wednesday evening with nine votes for and three against. This step brings St. Maarten closer to receiving some 550 million euros in hurricane recovery aid from the Dutch Government.
Voting for the law were Members of Parliament (MPs) Franklin Meyers, Claret Connor, Tamara Leonard, Sidharth Bijlani and Theo Heyliger of the United People’s party, Sarah Wescot-Williams and Perry Geerlings of the Democratic Party (DP), Chanel Brownbill (independent) and Rodolphe Samuel (National Alliance (NA)).

Samuel was fiercely critical of the way the law was demanded by the Dutch Government. He had asked, in both the Central Committee of Parliament meeting on Friday and Wednesday’s plenary session, for proof that the promised aid would come should the law be passed.

Caretaker Prime Minister Rafael Boasman’s response was that if the Netherlands is so keen on holding St. Maarten to agreements, “they will live up to theirs. … I don’t see if the two conditions are met, the Netherlands will back down.”
One condition was the adoption of the Integrity Chamber law and the other was an agreement for increased border control by the Dutch officials. Government agreed to the latter some three weeks ago.

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Prior to the vote that saw MPs George Pantophlet and Ardwell Irion of the National Alliance along with Frans Richardson (United St. Maarten Party (US Party)) say “no” to the law, Boasman had called on MPs to “for one moment move away from the things that hurt” and to show the Dutch Government that Parliament “can get together and make the right decision for the people.”

He specifically called on MPs “to do the right thing” and pass the legislation.
Richardson, whose party is responsible for Boasman’s appointment, said in motivating his vote that the law was an “abuse of power by our partners within the kingdom.”
The abuse came from the Dutch Government “forcing St. Maarten to accept an Integrity Chamber based on aid. … History will prove it was wrong,” Richardson said.
He noted that he would “never sell out St. Maarten for any silver dollar,” more so because the promised aid would bring “not the things people need, but the tools to shackle us.”
Pantophlet and Irion said they were not against the establishment of an Integrity Chamber, but objected to the manner in which it was brought forward.

Irion said there was not sufficient time for MPs to really digest the contents of the law, adding that the Council of Advice had taken three weeks to review it and Parliament had received it less than a week ago. He also “highly doubted” that all MPs had read the 90 pages of law written in legal Dutch, because “some MPs have problems reading regular Dutch.”

Although signed in for what was the 13th plenary session of the 2017-2018 Parliament Year on December 13, MP Silvio Matser (US Party) was not present in the General Assembly Hall of Parliament House when called on to vote on the law.
Absent from the session with notice were MPs Romeo Pantophlet and Hyacinth Richardson, both of NA.

The Integrity Chamber, based on the law, is to be an independent advisory body to Government. It will issue binding advices to Government on any integrity misconduct by Government entities and officials.

The Chamber has an initial term of four years after which an evaluation of its functioning and effectiveness will be reviewed by the governments. It has only been given the right to conduct administrative investigation and is not allowed to cross over into the realm of criminal investigation.

As with the recovery aid, the Dutch Government has committed to foot part of the Chamber’s cost. St. Maarten will take care of the rest via annual budget allotments. The exact amount for funding and the payment period still have to be worked out with The Hague.

Boasman said Government already has list of actions it wants the Chamber to undertake, including the draft of a “whistle-blower’s policy,” guidelines for compliance officers, methods to strengthen persons in positions of confidence and creating a public awareness programme about integrity issues.

Not the end
The ratification of the law is not the end of the road. Government still has to formulate a national decree to regulate the Chamber’s secretariat and negotiate with Dutch Government for funding.

The law itself still has to land on the desk of the Ombudsman for review. She has six weeks to complete this task. If no constitutional breaches are found, the law will be published in the National Gazette and will formally take effect.

This is the second law passed by Parliament to establish an Integrity Chamber. The first passed in 2015 was tossed into the dustbin by the Constitutional Court after the Ombudsman pointed out a number of breaches of the Constitution, including invasion of privacy and barring the right to not incriminate one’s self.
The battle over the law has been waged between the government in The Hague and the one in St. Maarten for almost half a decade. The Hague sees the need for such a chamber to bring about more checks and balances, while Philipsburg had argued that the country has sufficient entities, including the General Audit Chamber and the Ombudsman.

Marlin factor
The arguments came to a head following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma on September 6. The Dutch willingly offered recovery aid, but wanted the Chamber in place and better security at the borders with more Dutch personnel.
The then-NA-led government resisted the conditions, calling it unfair to tie aid to the unrelated law. However, The Hague saw the two as very related, with its representatives saying they needed to ensure the money given was properly spent.
A vehement stance against the conditions by then-Prime Minister William Marlin saw his Government crumble when DP and Brownbill withdrew support, saying the aid was vital to the country’s recovery. They along with UP formed a new coalition and passed a motion of no confidence against six ministers, excepting DP-appointed Minister Emil Lee, in November.
That motion was followed by one for Marlin’s immediate dismissal. When he had not resigned two weeks after the motion was adopted by Parliament, The Hague instructed Governor Eugene Holiday to ensure Marlin adhered to the motion. Marlin left office the day the instruction was issued, saving the Governor from having to act.

Source: The Daily Herald