~ Decisions needed, says St. Maarten Progress Committee ~
By Suzanne Koelega
THE HAGUE–The St. Maarten Government is lacking the political commitment to execute the action plans to strengthen the St. Maarten Police Force KPSM and the Pointe Blanche Prison. Implementation of these action plans is necessary to successfully conclude the Plans of Approach for these two vital justice organisations.
Chairman of the St. Maarten Progress Committee Nico Schoof and Secretary to the Committee Gert-Jan Stortelers said it plainly in the interview with The Daily Herald: improvements at the KPSM and the prison have been proceeding in a painfully-slow manner. This lack of action has an adverse effect on the operations of these two departments.
This is not because the people at the Police Force and the prison don’t work hard enough. No, it is mostly because of the lack of decision-taking from the part of the St. Maarten Government, which doesn’t have justice as a top priority.
Schoof emphasized that the Plans of Approach were part of the agreement between The Hague and Philipsburg when St. Maarten attained the status of Country within the Dutch Kingdom in October 2010.
St. Maarten must stick to this agreement, not only because it made this commitment to the Netherlands six years ago, but also because the security of St. Maarten and its community is at stake when the Police Force is not up to par and the prison has become an unsafe place, said the Committee Chairman.
No progress has been realised where it regards the execution of the Plans of Approach for the KPSM and the prison. “We are extremely worried. There is a serious lack of ambition to execute the plans for the Police Force and prison,” said Schoof.
“The government says there is no money. It is a matter of acting. Saying that there is no money is the wrong excuse,” said Stortelers, a former Head of the Dutch Representation in Philipsburg.
Aside from the lack of ambition, there is also a lack of leadership and quality. Naturally, there are exceptions. “Police Chief Carl John and his team are doing a good job, but he is facing a major issue: he lacks about 150 men/women in personnel, people that you don’t just find somewhere. The capacity problem is so urgent that in many cases police cannot give follow-up to heavy crime cases.”
In April 2016, a conference of the justice sector was held, all with good intentions and good ideas. Chaired by Member of the Council for Law Enforcement (“Raad voor de Rechtshandhaving”) and former St. Maarten Lt. Governor Franklyn Richards, a series of action plans were drafted at the conference. The St. Maarten Progress Committee was present at the conference as an observer.
These action plans, drafted in order to implement the Plans of Approach for the KPSM and prison, require approval by the St. Maarten Council of Ministers. So far no decision-taking has taken place on this level, much to the chagrin of the Progress Committee.
“The St. Maarten Government should make a political commitment to execute these action plans. There is no sense of urgency, no sense of priority. We have urged the government to make justice a priority many times, but nothing happens, no matter which government is at the helm,” said Schoof.
According to Schoof, the entire justice sector and related entities such as the labour unions, Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Supervisory Committee for the Pointe Blanche prison and the Council for Law Enforcement, is in support of a considerable strengthening of the Police Force and prison as defined in the Plans of Approach. “Unfortunately, the government gives no priority to the further development of these two departments. Everybody knows it, sees it, but still nothing happens.”
Having action plans that are approved by the St. Maarten Government along with a firm political commitment are positive elements in the talks with the Dutch Government to secure support. “You have a better position in the negotiations with the Netherlands,” said Schoof.
St. Maarten has to take its own responsibility first. Once that has occurred and St. Maarten has indicated that it requires assistance, the Dutch Government should provide support with know-how and capacity to strengthen the KPSM and prison. “The Netherlands should assist on the long term to build the justice sector in St. Maarten. That is also in the benefit of the Netherlands,” said Schoof.
The situation at the prison requires the most urgent attention. In its most recent report, the Progress Committee stated that the personnel situation remained “extremely critical” with many of the existing vacancies still open and people who don’t show up for work. Important internal systems don’t function at the prison, which leads to dangerous situations for the personnel and the inmates.
Strong leadership is lacking at the prison, said Schoof. “There is no more confidence in the institute.” The prison is run with a skeleton staff and managers don’t have it easy without sufficient personnel and the necessary mandates.
Due to the lack of personnel, inmates cannot take part in meaningful daytime activities and re-socialisation projects. This results in an unsafe situation. Only heavy criminals are housed at the prison as a result of the shortage of cell- and personnel capacity.
The back-up by the local Ministry of Justice for both the prison and Police Force is lacking. Schoof spoke of a “complete failure” on the part of the Justice Ministry. “Despite the good work that is being done by a few employees, the Ministry is functioning inadequately and is not well-organised.”
It is not all bad news. Schoof: “There have been positive developments in a number of areas. With the dedication of good, hardworking people positive things have been achieved. I am happy that most Plans of Approach have been successfully completed.”
Initially, there were five Plans of Approach and two Improvement Plans, aimed at bringing a number of specific government departments up to an acceptable level. Three Plans of Approach and the two Improvement Plans were successfully completed in the past few years: the NTO/Immigration, the National Detectives (Landsrecherche), the Permits Department of the Ministry of Public Housing, Physical Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI, the Census Office and the legislation unit at the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
“The involved departments have done what was stipulated in the Plans of Approach. The conditions to properly function were created. That is where our task ended. We are not responsible for the current operations of these departments,” stated Schoof and Stortelers, who explained that the Council for Law Enforcement assesses the departments in the justice sector.
The Progress Committee is an impartial, independent entity, a joint committee of the two countries without supervision of the Netherlands, Schoof stressed. “We are not a Dutch committee. The Hague is not our supervisor. Our mandate comes from the 2010 Round Table Conference RTC,” they said.
The two-year absence of a St. Maarten representative on the committee is observed as a great deficiency and cause of concern. “It bothers us greatly, also because it creates the perception that we are a Dutch Committee, something that we definitely don’t want.” No new member was appointed after Richard Gibson stepped down to become Minister of Finance.
The Progress Committee is clearly not afraid to speak out. “We are saying things the way they are, to the point. It is all for the benefit and security of St. Maarten and its people. Justice is a very heavy task, one which requires the support and full attention of St. Maarten and the Kingdom.”
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/61997-political-commitment-lacking-to-strengthen-police-prison