Transparency International presents integrity assessment: “Political parties are weak in representing social interests”

POSTED: 08/4/15 11:07 AM



Transparency International’s regional director for the Americas Alejandro Salas and lead researcher Cora de Voit. Photo Today / Leo Brown

GREAT BAY – At 7 p.m. local time last night, Transparency International’s National Integrity System assessment for St. Maarten came online. The company presented the report at the same time at the university on Pond Island. St. Maarten has now come full circle with probing its integrity issues. There are four reports on the table: the Baseline Study Institutional Integrity from the General Audit Chamber, the integrity-reports from the Bob Wit-committee and PricewaterhouseCoopers and now the transparency assessment.

It contains three core recommendations, of which the third one is the most concrete. Transparency recommends that political parties must disclose accurate and timely information about their income and expenditures. This information should include the dates of donations, the exact amounts and the names of the donors. “Transparency of political party finance is crucial to ensure that oversight institutions and citizens can find out whether politicians are acting in the interest of the public or only of the selected few,” Transparency wrote in a press release ahead of the presentation.

Alejandro Salas, regional director for the Americas and Cora de Voit, the lead researcher for the project were present at the university. Salas presented the results. Many politicians, including Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs, Justice Minister Dennis Richardson and DP-MP Sarah Wescot-Williams attended the presentation. Chief Prosecutor Ton Maan was also among the audience.

The report notes that political parties are not transparent in their internal procedures, that they lack party programs or platforms and that they are weak in their ability to represent social interests. Furthermore, effective political competition is limited according to Transparency, due to “opaque and unequal access to financing and the tendency of jumping from one party to the other.” This undermines a stable political environment. Transparency furthermore notes that the parliament does not make full use of the oversight instruments it has at its disposal to hold the executive to account.

The other two recommendations are more ambiguous, though not less important. St. Maarten should initiate a process of dialogue with all sectors of civil society and the private sector to raise awareness of the impacts and costs of corruption, and commit to a roadmap towards greater integrity, Transparency says.

The organization furthermore recommends that the government dedicate more resources to the implementation of existing transparency and accountability regulations in the public sector. The objective is to ensure their enforcement in practice.

Legal provisions concerning transparency are limited in the public sector according to the report. Provisions to ensure accountability are “to a large extent in place yet largely ineffective in practice. The legal framework for procurement is weak.” Furthermore the report established that in state-owned companies “opacity around the decision making process is prevalent.”

There are some uplifting remarks as well though: the Electoral Council, the Ombudsman and the audit institutions score relatively well. “The research shows that they are largely independent and have the potential to create an effective system of checks and balances, acting as an effective mechanism against corruption. To be more effective these institutions require increased cooperation from other institutions and sectors they interact with.”

The report is also critical of the local print media. Their independence is “not safeguarded to a large extent” and the media are dependent on foreign workers who in turn depend on local officials for their resident permits. The report fails to note that this does not apply to journalist with a Dutch passport.

Transparency furthermore writes that the media are “not successful in investigating or exposing cases of corruption as they do not carry out investigative journalism.” The researchers apparently missed how this newspaper brought down former Public Health Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus and how it exposed former Justice Minister Roland Duncan’s ties with the prostitution sector. “The small scale of St. Maarten’s society gives rise to a culture of self-censorship on the part of its journalists and makes it difficult to develop a critical media culture,” the report states.

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