Published On: Wed, Oct 18th, 2017

In the right direction

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

In times of crisis you get to know who your friends are. That certainly applies to our young country St. Maarten now that it is picking up the pieces after the devastation created by Hurricane Irma.

The debate about financial assistance from the Netherlands is not over yet. The Dutch have made demands, St. Maarten has refused and some people have started wondering whether the local government has lost its collective mind. The short term reward – money, money – seems to be on everybody’s mind, while the long-term consequences of accepting debatable conditions are deemed irrelevant by some.

We wrote before: the government could accept assistance with border control by the Royal Marechaussee, because these officers would fall under the formal responsibility of our Minister of Justice Rafael Boasman. The demand to establish the Integrity Chamber is ridiculous, in the sense that this institute, if it ever sees the light of day, has absolutely nothing to do with the reconstruction efforts.

It makes much more sense to put in place a solid control mechanism that supervises how the hundreds of millions St. Maarten will need to become whole again are going to be spent. And again we suggest involving a respected local expert in this process, next to a representative from paymaster the Netherlands. That local expert could be the chairman of our General Audit Chamber, Ronald Halman, but we’re open for other suggestions.

The question is however how we got into this mess and I think that part of the answer has to do with St. Maarten’s image in the Netherlands. St. Maarten is corrupt is the collective thinking in The Hague and therefore it cannot be trusted.

Quite some years ago, a Dutch reporter asked me whether there is a lot of corruption in St. Maarten. I said that I could not answer that question. After all, how do you measure corruption? The most objective way is counting the number of people that have been convicted for corruption in court. But at the time the question was posed, there were no such convictions.

There were lots of stories from the never sleeping rumor mill, but I was not going to use rumors as the basis for an answer to that impossible question.

In the end, St. Maarten was subjected to integrity-investigations. Three, no four, reports were published about it in 2014 and 2015.

Guess what we read in Dutch newspapers and also in the Antilliaans Dagblad in Curacao on a regular basis: the integrity reports show that the underworld and the legitimate part of society in St. Maarten are intertwined.

Remember the fuss when Attorney-general Guus Schram made such a statement, also based on the integrity reports back in 2015? “There are numerous indications showing that the underworld and the legitimate society in St. Maarten are structurally intertwined,” Schram said on September 11, 2015 during the installation of Judge Sander Verheijen.

True or false?

The integrity-report of the Wit Committee (Doing the Right Things Right) takes the air out of Schram’s observation. On page 70, in the report’s conclusions, is the following remark: “Due to a serious lack of hard data it is difficult to separate facts and fiction without expensive and lengthy criminal investigations. There are no concrete indications that make it even plausible that the under- and upperworld are inextricably intertwined across the board, as some individuals on this or the other side of the ocean occasionally claim.”

Integrity watchdog Transparency International also addressed the issue in its 2015 National Integrity System Assessment about St. Maarten. Referring to a crime profile report the police force launched in 2011, TI quoted: “Although the report covers various aspects of criminal activities, no evidence-based statistics could be found because due to a lack of resources in supervisory bodies and inspection services, limited information is available. With regard to fraud and other breaches of integrity, the report concludes that several instances of corruption by public officials and suspicions of abuse of power for personal gain are suspected, but cannot be substantiated.”

TI concludes: “An overall profile on corruption is not yet available for St. Maarten. There is discussion of corruption in local society, but in the absence of further substantiated data, this will be speculative.”

It is therefore an undisputable fact that these integrity reports do not confirm Schram’s structural link between the underworld and the legitimate part of St. Maarten’s society.

But Dutch media, and apparently also the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, prefer to ignore all this.

Nevertheless, St. Maarten does have integrity issues, just like Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD in the Netherlands. And the record shows that the country is not only aware of it, it is acting as well. Just ask former Public Health Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus, former airport director Regina Labega, former port director Mark Mingo, former heads of immigration Marcel Loor and Udo Aron, former Chief Commissioner Derrick Holiday and former president of the Central Bank Dr. Emsley Tromp who all fell from their pedestal.

Are we perfect? No we’re not, but we’re moving in the right direction.