Published On: Fri, Oct 13th, 2017

Power play

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Minister Plasterk said it during his last visit to St. Maarten: the Netherlands is not just going to open a bank account and let the island help itself. That makes sense. Funds that are available from the European Development Fund (EDF) are not forked over to the government either; a project needs to be tendered and executed and then the EDF pays the bills. Not a penny flows through the government’s financial system.

It comes therefore as no surprise that the Netherlands wants to appoint a High Commissioner to oversee the rebuilding efforts. For this position, the name of Hans Leijtens came up – the man who failed at the Dutch Tax Inspectorate before the Kingdom Council of Ministers made him the quartermaster for the establishment of the Integrity Chamber. That decision easily tops the list of unfortunate choices. At the same time, nobody should have a problem with proper supervision over the way hundreds of millions of euros are going to be spent to make St. Maarten whole again; but it would have been nice if the Dutch had thought of teaming its high commissioner – whoever that will be – up with a respected local expert like Ronald Halman, the chairman of the General Audit Chamber.

And then there is of course the Integrity Chamber. It is a mystery why Minister Plasterk wants to link the establishment of this doomed institute to the relief efforts. It is also a mystery why Dutch media keep writing that Prime Minister Marlin opposes the Integrity Chamber. That is simply not true.

Remember: the parliament approved a national ordinance to establish the Integrity Chamber back in 2016. But the Constitutional Court shot it down because there were provisions in this legislation that it deemed unconstitutional. Those provisions were mostly elements that ended up in the law at the insistence of the Dutch government. Go figure.

Right now the Integrity Chamber is a work in progress. It takes time, but one cannot claim with dry eyes that the government or the parliament is stalling this process.

That brings us to the question why St. Maarten would need an Integrity Chamber at all. Corruption is a big problem in St. Maarten – according to Minister Plasterk and a whole bunch of Dutch politicians, with SP-MP Ronald van Raak and VVD-MP André Bosman as their regular mouthpieces.

Is there corruption in St. Maarten? Sure. But there is also corruption in the Netherlands (for instance within Bosman’s party VVD), in the United States, in Zimbabwe, North Korea and every other country in the world.

Is St. Maarten closing its eyes for this reality? Not at all. Look at what happened since 10-10-10 when the island obtained country status. In December 2010 Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor, Maria Buncamper-Molanus, was forced to step down amid a $3 million scandal over speculation with land she held in long lease together with her husband Claudius.

This case resulted in a criminal investigation and the Buncampers were sentenced to a 12 month conditional prison sentence and 240 hours of community service for tax fraud, forgery and membership of a criminal organization. The appeal is still pending.

In March 2013, I wrote in great detail in Today – the newspaper that closed its doors after Hurricane Irma – about the involvement of Justice Minister Roland Duncan with the prostitution sector. When the government fell, Duncan was the first one to leave office. His credibility in The Hague had sunk way below zero.

The director of the airport, Regina Labega, was kicked out of her job because she did not pass a screening by the national security service VDSM.

The director of the port, Mark Mingo, was this year sent on a leave of absence because he is a suspect in a criminal investigation into, among other things, money laundering.

The president of the Central Bank, Dr. Emsley Tromp, was fired because he is a suspect into an investigation into his private finances.

And the list goes on: immigration officers and prison guards, employees of the census office and many others have fallen from their pedestal because they were caught breaking the rules.

St. Maarten is not a perfect place, but these examples show that the system of checks and balances is functioning.

The Dutch wish to link the establishment of the Integrity Chamber to financial aid in the wake of Hurricane Irma is, in my opinion, a power play that stinks to high heaven.

And then there is the Dutch insistence of putting the Royal Marechaussee in charge of border control. That’s another power play because the Dutch don’t want to help St. Maarten, they want to take over.

Nobody will argue that assistance with border control is unwelcome. On the contrary, the country is ready to embrace help in this field, but it can easily be fit within the existing framework, whereby our own Minister of Justice remains in control.

This is not a time to butt heads over trivia. It is a time to truly help our country recover from a devastating natural disaster.

If only everybody could come to their senses and leave their overblown ego’s at home, there is still plenty of room to work together in a constructive way towards a better St. Maarten.

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