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Second Chamber calls for intervention in St. Maarten

THE HAGUE--The Dutch media reported on Monday that there is majority support in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament for intervention through a large criminal investigation of "St. Maarten's corrupt government." Dutch politicians are especially worried now that the United People's (UP) party of Theo Heyliger is about to take power.

Two major Dutch newspapers, De Telegraaf and Trouw, reported on Monday morning on PricewaterhouseCoopers' (PwC's) Integrity Inquiry report on St. Maarten that was ordered by the Kingdom Council of Ministers late September last year, via St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday. The report was made public on Friday.

"Corrupt St. Maarten has to be investigated," was the headline in De Telegraaf, while Trouw's article was headed "Action necessary against corruption St. Maarten."

The news website NU.nl published an article later that morning based on the letter of St. Maarten's incumbent Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and Justice Minister Dennis Richardson to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte headlined "St. Maarten asks the Netherlands for help to combat corruption." The Daily Herald reported on this letter in Monday's edition.

According to De Telegraaf and Trouw, a Parliament majority of the liberal democratic VVD party, Socialist Party (SP), the Christian Democratic Party CDA and the Party for Freedom PVV wants Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk to take action after the PwC report concluded that "the entire government is soaked with nepotism," stated De Telegraaf.

"The report shows that corruption is in all layers of the St. Maarten Government. The Dutch politicians are even more worried about the controversial Theo Heyliger taking absolute power on the island last week," De Telegraaf stated.

Both newspapers referred to the recent vote-buying case that involved three police officers and members of the UP party. The Judge dismissed the case and concluded that the Prosecutor's Office had committed "class justice" by not investigating the UP top, including Heyliger, as there were clear indications that they were involved in vote-buying.

De Telegraaf mentioned the move by incumbent Minister Cornelius de Weever to join the UP party. According to VVD Member of the Second Chamber André Bosman, De Weever was "simply bought" by Heyliger. Bosman said he especially noted in PwC's integrity report that there was "much corruption at the Harbour where Heyliger does business."

"Everything is going wrong there," said Bosman, who called for a criminal investigation together with his colleague Ronald van Raak of SP. Van Raak said he wanted the Netherlands to provide technical support to enhance the investigative capacity on the island.

"We are still responsible for good governance within the Kingdom. Heyliger bought votes, Members of Parliament and as such, government. The entire Kingdom will be worth nothing more than paper if we do nothing now," Van Raak told Trouw.

According to Van Raak, Heyliger is being backed by the "same dubious persons" who earlier stood behind former Curaçao Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte. "All bad politicians need to leave the islands," he said.

Bosman repeated his wish to have a so-called Kingdom Officer ("Rijksofficier") for St. Maarten, a suggestion that he already made in March 2013. This officer, who would operate directly under the responsibility of the Kingdom Government, would be able to intervene and institute criminal investigations autonomously. Bosman will bring up his proposal during the handling of the 2015 Kingdom Relations budget in the Second Chamber this Wednesday.

Member of the Second Chamber Madeleine van Toorenburg of CDA supports the call for action by the minister. She pointed out that together with the Democratic Party D66, her party has been requesting active support for St. Maarten's judicial sector, which she said is severely overburdened.

"We are watching St. Maarten slipping away, but we don't act," Van Toorenburg told Trouw. She said a decent criminal investigation also was needed of Heyliger's and his party's vote-buying practices; otherwise, "he will walk off laughing in the end."

PVV Member of Parliament Sietse Fritsma said he supported the call for action by Justice. He repeated the mantra of his party as the solution for corruption and nepotism on the Dutch Caribbean islands: get rid of all of them.

Van Raak suggested in an interview with Radio 1 on Monday evening that the Kingdom Government should give Governor Holiday an instruction to order a criminal investigation. "We can give the Governor an instruction for such an investigation," he said.

According to Van Raak, using the guarantee function, article 43 in the Kingdom Charter, which states that the Kingdom is responsible for guaranteeing proper governance in the Kingdom, is "very [much – Ed.] needed at this time."

In the radio interview, Van Raak stated that there was "much influence" from the mafia on the island. "St. Maarten is the washing machine of drugs money. It is at the crossings of the drugs trade. Much of that bad money is also ending up in politics. We have to catch the criminals and get rid of the bad money and bad politicians."

Police officer sentenced for forgery and assault

PHILIPSBURG--The Court of First Instance on Monday convicted police officer Michelangelo L.R. Sirvania (42) of forgery and assault. He was sentenced in absentia to three months suspended, on two years' probation, and 180 hours community service.

The Prosecutor's Office had requested the Court to send the police officer to jail for three months and order him to perform unpaid work for 180 hours.

Once irrevocably convicted, he will instantly be dismissed from the St. Maarten Police Force.

The Court found it legally and convincingly proven that Sirvania had committed forgery in attempting to purchase airplane tickets to Curaçao and the Dominican Republic with the use of bounced cheques between May 18 and May 29, 2012.

The transactions at the office of Insel Air had a total value of US $3,470. The cheques bounced because there were insufficient funds in Sirvania's bank account.

The police officer was also found guilty of assaulting a man, who was arrested after an incident in Tantra Nightclub in Maho on December 22, 2011.

Surveillance-camera footage and statements from Sirvania's colleagues and witnesses led the Court to consider it proven that Sirvania had punched the detainee in his face, while his hands were cuffed behind his back.

The Judge stated Monday that the incident, in which a cuffed and defenceless man was battered without any reason, warranted an unconditional prison sentence.

It was specifically held against the defendant that he was the senior police officer on the scene and had failed to give the right example to his younger colleagues.

However, the Court also took into consideration that the defendant had never had any previous run-ins with the law. There was no evidence of serious injury of the victim and it was also taken into account that the incident had taken place almost three years ago. All this led the Court to impose a suspended sentence.

TelCell Breakthrough winners named, on to ‘dream programme’

page3b114MAHO--The 2014 TelCell Breakthrough Talent Search winners were announced Hollywood style after a well-received show at Maho's Theatre Royale on Saturday night. They will now begin "a one year dream programme in which they will be granted celebrity status," assisting TelCell and the TelEm Group in various promotions, while further honing their own artistic talents.

The winners will also collaborate on a recording contract and are meant to act as mentors and role models for St. Maarten's youth.

Winners for the four categories, instruments, vocals, rap and dance were announced as: New Generation Status, Arias -4, Serenity Martinus and Tristan Defoe respectively. Runners up for these categories were Brandon Potmis, Sinatra Bauld, Rumari Rogers and Deveny Elferink respectively. Sha-Neisha Gijsbertha received the most SMS votes through the public which included a period leading up to the competition, with 362.

The elated winners were called to the stage amidst loud applause, following the contest. TelEm Group Chief Commercial Officer Brian Mingo said he expected a great turnout and some super acts on the night, but what transpired went way beyond his expectations. This feeling seemed to reverberate with impressed audience members.

"The crowd was really supportive and family-oriented. It was great to see this kind of togetherness and spirit of competition on St. Maarten and I am personally proud that TelCell and TelEm Group are associated with something so positive for our youth and exposure of our youth talent," said Mingo.

He said the company will ensure that like last year's TelCell Breakthrough winners, the new team will have every bit as much exposure and much more, so that they can live their dreams of what life as a top celebrity and performer can be.

Footage of the show is already being edited for broadcast, and will be aired on a date yet to be announced.

TelEm Group said that a wave of SMS messages, emailed photos and social media messages were shared, praising the winners, TelCell and Breakthrough organisers for a job well done.

"Big-Up's for St. Maarten's talented youth" stated one tweet, while a Facebook follower of the show urged organisers to commit themselves to shows of this quality for another "10 Years!"

Mingo, Bertaux "Mr. Rude" Fleming of Xtratight Entertainment and Event Co-Organiser Angel Richardson congratulated all contestants and winners, judges, Mcees, volunteers and each other "for an outstanding job."

"Unfortunately, there has to be a winner, but again in our view, all the contestants performing on the night worked hard and are all winners to us," said Fleming, who added that he is looking forward to sharing studio time with the youngsters to fulfil the recording contract deal.

Vehicle catches fire after crash, two restaurants sustain damage

page4a113SIMPSON BAY--Two young women in a vehicle had a lucky escape after one of them lost control of the vehicle she was driving, resulting in the vehicle crashing through part of Toppers Restaurant, and ending up crashing into the side of Marty's Gyro Restaurant, causing both business to sustain extensive damage.

The two women made off out of the vehicle, which caught fire, causing parts of the two restaurants also to light up. The Fire Department was called out around 3:00am, Saturday, and quickly managed to put out the fire. Both women were seen to run away from the car.

The driver of the vehicle, a white Hyundai, was found shortly after with the security guard of neighbouring premises. She and her passenger were checked out by paramedics, but it is currently unknown if they sustained any injuries.

The Fire Department confirmed that no one was injured as a result of the fire, although the car and both restaurants sustained extensive damage. The Daily Herald understands that the vehicle was fully insured, so the damage for both restaurants should be covered,

Police spokesman Inspector Ricardo Henson confirmed that the accident took place and that the traffic department is in the process of investigating how this accident could happen, and what the role of the driver was in causing the accident.

At press time he had not yet received an accident report, and was therefore unable to confirm exact details of the accident.

Govt-owned companies largely ignore integrity, transparency

THE HAGUE/PHILIPSBURG--St. Maarten's government-owned companies are almost non-compliant where it comes to corporate governance, integrity and transparency requirements.

That is the conclusion of the Integrity Inquiry into the Functioning of the Government of St. Maarten, a report that was released on Friday and which was ordered by the Kingdom Council of Ministers in September last year through St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday. The harbour company didn't cooperate with the integrity inquiry.

The inquiry team of the New York based accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) looked at the four largest government-owned companies, St. Maarten Harbour Holding Company (SMHHC), the Princess Juliana International Airport Operating Company PJIAE, St. Maarten's utilities company GEBE and the St. Maarten Telecommunications Company TelEm.

Five elements were used for the integrity architecture assessment of these four companies: commitment and devotion of resources, integrity compliance programme, procurement (public tendering), governance and oversight, and transparency.

The so-called maturity of these elements based on global standards was deemed "low," except for the element governance and oversight which was rated medium. The inquiry team concluded that the overall integrity architecture maturity for the four government- owned companies was low.

The inquiry team noted in its report that the SMHHC did not provide any documentation which was requested from the company. Therefore the inquiry of this entity was limited to information obtained through interviews and documents provided by third parties. GEBE didn't provide its full cooperation either. "Several documents requested from GEBE, including any anti-corruption or procurement-related policies were not provided to the inquiry team, and therefore a complete analysis of GEBE's integrity framework was not conducted."

According to the report, the government-owned companies are "key contributors to the stability of the local economy and public infrastructure," it was stated. Yet, these companies have major gaps in their integrity architecture.

In general, the companies showed a lack of compliance with existing regulatory and corporate requirements, a lack of well-functioning integrity compliance programmes, and a lack of transparency and reporting mechanisms.

The inquiry team attributed some of these shortcomings to a "lack of policies, procedures, transparency and commitment from senior management." It also appeared that "several" of the government-owned companies didn't adhere to the same laws governing the operations of private companies, it was stated in the report.

"Examples of observed non-compliance include avoidance of corporate governance rules by subsidiaries of the government-owned companies, no profiles for Supervisory Board members and an absence of the required interaction with the Corporate Governance Council."

Integrity compliance programmes in many cases missed components like a Code of Conduct, anti-corruption policies, and adequate and documented procurement, payment and whistleblowers policies.

Where it came to transparency it was concluded that the companies were largely non-transparent to their stakeholders, including government, third parties and the general public. Only one company, PJIAE, disclosed its financial results and company objectives in an annual report, posted on the company's website.

Of the other three companies, the inquiry team was unable to locate the disclosure of financial results, company objectives, the remuneration of the executive management and Supervisory Board members. Neither GEBE, nor TelEm were transparent with their business activities and financial health. Operational or financial results were not published.

The inquiry team was especially critical of the Harbour Group of Companies. "The SMHHC appears to be non-transparent with its business activities and

financial results. " Individuals who spoke with the team of researchers mentioned that their repeated attempts to obtain SMHHC's financial statements were unsuccessful. It was noted that the general public should be able to obtain this information from the company by law. It was observed that, "The SMHHC discloses very little information in general about the 13 companies that form the group through its website or any other means."

Information was neither provided on several large infrastructural projects that were completed by the government-owned companies, mainly on bidding and award procedures. "Limited reporting decreased the accountability of these companies to their stakeholders and contributes to the perception of corruption."

The report listed various observations that indicated irregularities took place at the government-owned companies. According to the report, the government-owned companies appear to have travel and expense policies which create opportunities for abuse by staff.

It was noted that the staff of one, unnamed company, appeared to have received daily cash allowances for meals prior to travel but purchased meals using corporate credit cards while on the trip.

In 2014, the Supervisory Board of Directors and senior management of one of the companies travelled to Miami for a board meeting. They received cheques prior to the trip for allowances for meals between US $150 and 175 per day, but during the trip the group spent more than US $6,000 on meals charged to corporate credit cards or paid for by wire transfer requests, according to documentation analysed by the inquiry team.

Records reviewed indicated that these officials also appeared to have bought gifts and personal items during the trip, and appeared to have charged to the corporate credit card an expense for US $5,200 to watch an NBA basketball playoff game.

The report cited various recommendations for the government-owned companies to achieve a better integrity architecture. One of the recommendations was to institute an Office of Chief Compliance Officer which would closely work with the Integrity Project Management, another recommendation specifically for government. Only PJIAE currently has a compliance officer.

Some of the recommendations included: government should assert itself as sole shareholder and enforce that the government-owned companies comply with laws governing private companies, implement and enforce corporate governance rules, require independence of the Supervisory Board of Directors and have profiles formulated for them, install and enforce an integrity compliance programme, institute and enforce a Code of Conduct for all employees, institute whistleblower policies, establish standardised procurement guidelines, establish strict and explicit policies and prevent that employees can make double expenses, require disclosures, conduct checks for non-compliance through an internal audit and have regular, independent assessments.

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