Practical matters hold up start of Integrity Chamber

THE HAGUE–The St. Maarten Integrity Chamber has not materialised as yet. “The start-up has suffered some stagnation,” Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops told the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament during a debate on Thursday.

The establishing of an Integrity Chamber is one of the two conditions the Dutch Government has tied to the 550-million-euro reconstruction aid that has been reserved for St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma. The second condition, the strengthening of the border control, is also in a preparatory phase.

Knops said in a debate with the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations that he was aware of St. Maarten’s interim government’s hesitation to take definite decisions regarding the Integrity Chamber in anticipation of a new government that should be taking over shortly.

The Netherlands already has a candidate for the board of the Integrity Chamber, whereas St. Maarten still has to appoint one. “It is important that St. Maarten acts quickly to present a candidate,” said Knops. The two board members will select a chairperson, who is to be the third person on the board.

Knops said he was convinced that the “political commitment was there” to set up the Integrity Chamber. “It is more about the practical issues. There is no unwillingness, but there is the situation of an interim government,” he said.

He explained that the national ordinance to set up the Integrity Chamber had been ratified, but that it had not been executed as yet. He warned that there would be consequences if the new government decided to stop the process, because St. Maarten would no longer comply with the Dutch conditions.

Members of Parliament (MPs) André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party and Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) addressed the matter of integrity during Thursday’s debate. Both voiced their concerns about integrity matters in the St. Maarten Government. Van Raak was especially critical of the St. Maarten Parliament, which included a few members who were under investigation or being prosecuted.

Knops agreed that integrity was of vital importance, especially in light of the large reconstruction projects that were about to start. He said integrity should be a daily matter. For that reason, he was happy that St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday had emphatically addressed this matter in his speech at the installation of the new Parliament.

As for the second condition of the Netherlands, the strengthening of the border control with the input of Dutch law enforcement personnel, Knops said a plan for how to go about this matter had been drafted. He said cooperation between Dutch and St. Maarten law enforcement personnel was good.

A number of Dutch police officers have been stationed in St. Maarten since Hurricane Irma. Knops shared no details about their future input, but he informed the Second Chamber that Dutch prison personnel would continue providing assistance at the Pointe Blanche penitentiary.

According to Knops, an extension was sought and granted for the input of 15 Dutch prison workers to assist with the dire situation at the Pointe Blanche penitentiary. The prison was badly damaged by the hurricane, which has added to the stressful situation of severe understaffing at the facility.

Knops said the matter of the prison and the plans to construct a new facility would surely come up when he visited St. Maarten in three weeks together with Dutch Minister of Justice and Security Ferd Grapperhaus.

Knops emphasised that St. Maarten carried its own responsibility for the country’s justice system, but he acknowledged that constructing a new prison was difficult due to St. Maarten’s tenuous financial situation since the hurricane. However, the Netherlands is not planning on designating monies from the Reconstruction Trust Fund to finance a new prison.

“It is a serious problem, but it would be a bad signal to use the funds to build a new prison first,” said Knops.

Several Dutch MPs asked about the worrisome situation at the prison. Bosman suggested an action plan and stressed that St. Maarten was responsible to ensure that sufficient funds were invested in its justice system.

“The prison is in a very bad state. Yet, no money from the Trust Fund will go towards construction of a new prison. A decision needs to be taken, because the situation cannot continue much longer,” said MP Antje Diertens of the Democratic Party D66.

MP Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA noted that the prison played an important role in the law enforcement system.

Source: The Daily Herald