~ Political culture, vote buying concerns ~
PHILIPSBURG--The Integrity Committee installed by government will be examining Parliament and elections as part of its assignment, Committee Chairman Judge Jacob Wit said Thursday.
Concerns have been expressed about the country's political culture and vote-buying. Wit told reporters at a press conference that the committee had been "rounding up" its general investigations this week, as it had started with a "helicopter view" of all the areas that might be vulnerable.
"We have now reached the stage where we have a fairly accurate picture of the most vulnerable areas in the St. Marten public sector. In some of these areas the committee already embarked on a more in-depth investigation and it is in those sectors that the committee will concentrate in the following months."
Asked what vulnerable areas had been identified, Wit mentioned Parliament and elections. He said persons to whom the committee had spoken, including politicians, had expressed concerns about these areas.
Questions about vote-buying, what it means, when helping someone becomes vote-buying, whether the role of Parliament "is properly understood by Parliament itself" and whether this role is properly exercised are among the issues to be looked at.
"Now we will not go into details and I am not sure how we will deal with these issues in our final report, but we are looking at that also, because political culture is at the root of some of the concerns that have been expressed," he said.
"Political culture does not have to do only with politicians. Political culture has to do with everybody in the population. Is it normal that you go to a politician to ask him or her for money or a refrigerator or a TV? If people normally think that this is normal then we have to find ourselves a mirror and look into that mirror. There are all kinds of aspects there that have to be taken into account."
He said the committee would be examining these issues fairly broadly. "Our committee is not restricted to the administration, so if there are any integrity issues emerging from what we could say a certain political culture we will look at that. ... We can, will and are looking at Parliament and elections, because if it is possible that integrity issues emerge from those processes it should be looked at.
"This committee interestingly has been created by the executive branch of government, so the question might come up 'how is it possible that a committee like that would look at, for example, the legislative branch?' Point is that once the committee was created it was totally and is totally independent, and we will look critically at anything dealing with public administration, including the way politics is done."
Wit said there were "certain areas" that were "publicly known to create issues or concerns" of integrity. "I don't think we should go into that now because we have not yet decided how far we will go into certain areas."
He said the committee would be unable to go into all areas. In cases it will be unable to address it will consult with the committee installed by Governor Eugene Holiday "to see if they would go into that particular area more in depth."
There have been many discussions and meetings with persons in St. Maarten and in the Netherlands, including with current and former politicians, ministers, civil servants and others, since the committee began its work last December. The discussions were frank and cordial, which was helpful to the committee.
"Of course everyone has his or her own perspectives and not everyone's perspective is the same," Wit said.
The committee also met with the group installed by Governor Eugene Holiday. He said the two committees had established a cordial coordination and were working to avoid duplication of their efforts. He was quick to add that each group would be responsible for its own report.
Elaborating on the issue of vote-buying, Wit said there was a "grey area" between helping someone and buying votes. "We will have to see what would be the proper balance in that. I think that can be done in many ways, but we have not yet reached a clear conclusion there.
"Everybody knows that in a small community the 'haves' are expected to help out the 'have-nots,' but it should not reach a certain level where you get to buying votes. That, everywhere in the world, would be illegal."
Finding a "proper balance" to this issue will be a challenge, but it is a matter that has to be addressed. "It has nothing to do with European standards or Dutch standards. There are things that are equal everywhere in the world and our region consists of many island communities. Vote-buying is not accepted anywhere and so that has to be changed. It has to be done in a proper way."
The Committee will be filing an intermediary report this month, and is expected to present its final report to government in June. This report will have to be presented to Parliament within a month. It also will have to be sent to the Kingdom government.
Wit said the report was expected to create public debate on the Committee's recommendations.