Published On: Tue, Apr 11th, 2017

Tactical mistake

Where does St. Maarten stand with its intention to appeal the kingdom instruction about the Integrity Chamber? Not even on shaky grounds, because as things stand today, St. Maarten – and Aruba and Curacao as well for that matter – do not stand a chance in any dispute with the kingdom. Ruben Severina, a Curacaolenean who lives in Zoetermeer, once described that situation in a letter to the editor in the Antilliaans Dagblad.

It was the time when Aruba’s Prime Minister Mike Eman went on hunger strike to protest to Dutch intervention in his country’s budget process.

It is worrisome that the Kingdom Council of Ministers tramples upon the principles of the constitutional state, Severina observed, adding that the Dutch government always praises the constitutional state but it is not following its own rules.

The minister plenipotentiary is a lone wolf in the Kingdom Council of Ministers, Severina pointed out. She or he can count at best on two supporters: the ministers plenipotentiary of the other two Caribbean countries. The Kingdom Council of Ministers takes decisions based on a majority vote. The ministers plenipotentiary are confronted with the thirteen ministers of the Dutch cabinet. There is no way to win in there.

Severina also knew already why the Dutch government is so stubborn about the dispute regulation: it does not want to hand over power to an independent agency.

Severina warned for what is happening right now: a tidal wave of instructions; he advised to draw a line in the sand.

Do not make the mistake of wanting to amend the Kingdom Charter, he added, because that Charter still offers the best protection to the smaller countries in the kingdom.

Having said that, what is there left to do against the mighty Dutch? When arguments do not work, resistance seems the best option. Prime Minister Marlin has already indicated that he will not cooperate with any instruction and he has ordered his civil servants to stay away from talks with quartermaster Hans Leijtens.

From sources in The Hague we understand that PM Marlin may have made a tactical mistake by not understanding that decisions taken in the Kingdom Council of Ministers are always prepared beforehand at a diplomatic level or at the level of high ranking civil servants.

In that sense, the Kingdom Council of Ministers is a formality. Diplomacy has done its work long before its meetings and this made Marlin’s visit to Minister Plasterk a day before Friday’s meeting rather pointless.

Admittedly, Marlin knew this even before he left for the Netherlands. “Probably not,” was his answer to his own question whether he would manage to convince Plasterk.

While Plasterk suggested in the media that he is still open for consultation, chances that he will change his mind are generally considered zero at best.

But what about the heart of the matter – the Integrity Chamber itself? Will it do anybody any good? St. Maarten has enough agencies that could deal with the matters Plasterk wants the Integrity Chamber to handle. The General Audit Chamber and the National Detective Agency are two examples.

While the General Audit Chamber has a solid reputation, its effect on the course of events in St. Maarten is currently negligible. That is because the Parliament fails to act upon the findings the chamber presents in its reports. The baseline study institutional integrity management is a fine example.

The National Detective Agency is another kettle of fish. After a slow start, due to serious understaffing, this agency is gaining momentum and the results are visible in court.

We have seen a former minister (Maria Buncamper-Molanus), Members of Parliament (Louie Laveist, Patrick Illidge, Silvio Matser, Romain Laville) and the former director of the Tourist Bureau and the airport (Regina Labega) all end up in court for a variety of wrongdoings. It is hard to maintain that St. Maarten does not act against fiddling high profile citizens.

The most critical institution that fails to do what it is supposed to do is however the Parliament. It hardly reacts to findings by the General Audit Chamber. It accepts that convicted Members of Parliament remain in their seat; and it does not put enough pressure on the government to get things done.

Example? The establishment of the Gaming Control Board; that’s a running gag if there ever was one. Subsequent governments have paid lip service to the need for this body, but none have taken decisive steps to make it a reality; all this while the integrity reports have pointed to a link between casinos and organized crime. Mind you, without coming up with concrete examples.

But there you have it. There is a lot of information available, but the Parliament chooses not to act. That weakness is not easy to overcome or to repair.

Politicians have their work cut out for them now that, partially due to their own inaction, the kingdom has brought down the hammer with an instruction to establish the Integrity Chamber. By now, there are few people in St. Maarten who think that such an institute is necessary or even helpful.

This situation could have easily been avoided by taking action – any action – even in a totally different direction – that would have made abundantly clear that PM Marlin’s statement that he is “prepared to clean up the mess” is more than lip service.