Anger over Ronald Plasterk’s looming instruction: “No room for consensus”

POSTED: 02/5/15 7:04 PM

St. Maarten – Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs and Justice Minister Dennis Richardson reacted with thinly veiled anger during a press conference yesterday to the decision by Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk to force an instruction via a general measure of kingdom governance (AMvRB) upon the country related to the establishment of the Integrity Chamber. While Plasterk still wants to find consensus, Richardson closed the door on that option. “As long as they hang on to that AmvRB there is no room for consensus. There is no need for that AMvRB.”

“Governing based on perception, information manipulation and the use of powers not in the way they were intended seems to be the new norm for the Dutch government to keep the colonies in check and under control,” Richardson said.  “Apparently, the objective justifies the means.”

Richardson said that St. Maarten is doing exactly what it is supposed to do: executing recommendations from the integrity-reports. The Wit-report and the PricewaterhouseCoopers-report both recommended the establishment of an Integrity Chamber.

The draft ordinance and its memorandum of elucidation are currently at the Council of Advice for review, but Prime Minister Gumbs made copies of the draft-legislation available to the media yesterday afternoon.

Plasterk’s problem with the draft (see related story) is that, according to him, politicians will be too closely involved with the work of the Integrity Chamber. According to Gumbs and Richardson, that is not the case at all.

The Integrity Chamber will consist of a supervisory board, the chamber itself and a secretariat. The supervisory board will consist of the president of the Common Court of Justice – currently Evert Jan van der Poel – the vice-president of the Council of Advice – currently Mavis Brooks-Salmon – and a third candidate to be appointed by royal decree and nominated by the Kingdom Council of Ministers in consultation with the Council of Ministers of St. Maarten. This supervisory board appoints the members of the Integrity Chamber.

Plasterk’s problem is with the fate of the advices the Integrity Chamber will produce. According to article 28 of the draft ordinance, these advices go to the Council of Ministers. The advices are however binding and if the council wants to diverge from it, it will have to motivate this in writing.

Minister Richardson said that the Plasterk’s draft AMvRB proposes that the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte appoints one candidate and the Dutch government the second one. The third candidate to the supervisory board would be appointed by Rutte in consultation with the Council of Ministers of St. Maarten.

The organization Plasterk has in mind would have technocrats from the Netherlands who report to the Council of Ministers, while every half year a progress report is sent to the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

Article 35 of St. Maarten’s draft ordinance states that the Integrity Chamber reports annually to the parliament, the government and the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

That Plasterk, with the backing of the Kingdom Council of Ministers, is now cornering St. Maarten with yet another instruction – because that is what the AMvRB comes down to – is beyond the comprehension of both Prime Minister Gumbs and Justice Minister Richardson.

The government has appointed a quartermaster to prepare the way for the Integrity Chamber. This functionary will also act as “an integrity breach investigator and advisor,” Richardson said.

He pointed out that the parliament nor the Council of Ministers will have any influence on the composition or the functioning of the Integrity Chamber.

Minister Richardson vented his anger by pointing out that the Dutch government did not want to be involved in the committee led by Justice Bob Wit “because the butcher must not rest his own meat.” This was, the minister added, “a slap in the face because the government of St. Maarten itself is subject of the investigation. Adding insult to injury: there is rampant intertwining between the underworld and the government of St. Maarten. According to Minister Plasterk these accusations are to be found in the integrity reports. This is where the information manipulation by the Dutch government takes shape.”

Minister Richardson stated that the Wit-Samson committee “explicitly stated that they have not established an intertwining across the board of the underworld with the government of St. Maarten, while they were explicitly asked to investigate this aspect.”

Richardson also noted that the PricewaterhouseCoopers report “does not state anywhere that corruption (a criminal offense) is rampant on all levels of government even up to the Council of Ministers and the parliament. This is a conclusion drawn by Minister Plasterk and his supporters based on the examples of integrity breaches mentioned in the reports.”

Referring to explicit statements in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, Richardson said that the Dutch government is busy with a misinformation campaign. He called it ironic that the recommendation to establish an Integrity Chamber comes from the (Wit)-committee that the Dutch government did not want to take part in.

Worse, Richardson said it is “diabolical” that Plasterk had first asked St. Maarten to delay the speedy establishment of theIintegrity-Chamber ordinance so that the Dutch government could give its input while it now declares that St. Maarten does not have a sense of urgency. The minister furthermore used expressions like “outrageous and childish” and “an outright lie” to describe statements made by Plasterk for the justification of the AMvRB.

That lie refers to Plasterk’s statement that the parliament has the last word on integrity breaches the Chamber might find. “Its sole role is to establish the national ordinance.”

Minister Richardson expressed his disgust over the fact that Plasterk does not stick to his own words. He cited from a letter Plasterk sent on December 9, 2013 to the governor of St. Maarten about the integrity-investigation that was about to begin: “The government of St. Maarten is obviously the first in line to execute the recommendations that stem from the investigation. The Kingdom Council of Ministers is only in the picture if and in the unlikely event the government of St. Maarten would not take measures that do justice to the recommendations.”

Prime Minister Gumbs outlined the history that resulted in three integrity-reports, while there is still one underway from Transparency International (expected by the end of March). “Good governance is one of the priorities of this government,” the prime minister emphasized. “A country with integrity-issues would never be considered an interesting partner for investors.”

Gumbs said that the Council of Ministers has taken the recommendations seriously. “We instructed legal affairs to drop everything and to work on this legislation. Initially the Integrity Chamber was to be a part of the Ministry of General Affairs. That was put on hold to bring it in line with the recommendations.”

Gumbs said that the government is “on the road to establish the laws and resolutions and that it will continue to do this.

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