PHILIPSBURG--“Take measures to prevent changes of political affiliation once elected without the requirement to give up one’s seat in Parliament (taking into consideration the popular votes), to create more political stability and change the electoral law to support this,” recommended global anti-corruption organisation Transparency International (TI) in its National Integrity System Assessment of the country.
The report was released on Tuesday.
TI called for the introduction of “a definite sanction” that a political candidate is removed from public office in case of any infraction of the law.
Training for political candidates and Members of Parliament (MPs) on their role in society and the setup of a handbook for candidates and legislators also are recommended.
Training on integrity regulations for ministers, their cabinets and top management of the government departments and implementing an integrity protocol for ministers are cited as needed by the report.
Political parties are advised to “implement measures to ensure a connection is maintained between votes obtained and a seat in Parliament” and to “enhance transparency on internal governance.”
Parliament is “inadequate in effectively using its oversight powers,” according to the TI report. This is “mainly due to a lack of experience in the interactions with the members of the executive and because of a certain unwillingness to act and sanction,” TI said.
Improvements can be made regarding transparency activities, especially considering that the Parliament’s transparency is to a large extent at the discretion of the Parliament itself, said the report.
The key weaknesses of Parliament were listed as “very limited” executive oversight in practice and low (in practice) on independence, transparency, accountability and integrity.
Key strengths of Parliament are that it has adopted legal reform “to promote good governance,” has a generally strong legal framework and sufficient powers in law to oversee the Council of Ministers (executive branch of government).
The report recommended that Parliament make all documents available on the official website, make publicly available the status of new legislation processing, make the rules to inform the Audit Chamber more specific, make publicly available all information on activities related to the position of a Member of Parliament and establish a code of conduct with specific rules on additional functions and activities and financial interests.
Parliament also should develop and implement training for all MPs regarding their monitoring task towards the executive and enact legislation on the establishment of anti-corruption agencies, said the report.
The structure and organisation of the executive branch have changed considerably since 2010. As a result, the report said, the executive branch’s accountability is not ensured adequately in practice: “St. Maarten has enacted new legal provisions on integrity, but lacks functioning mechanisms for their implementation. For example, although a law on the integrity of the members of the executive is in place, it was not acted upon by the previous prime minister for two of the cabinets.”
The report found that that there was “no undue interference from other actors” with the Constitutional Court. The Court’s “sound level of independence” also has led to its ability to exercise oversight over the executive branch.
The Court’s key strength is “very strong” legal provisions on independence and transparency and very strong powers to oversee the executive branch.
Its weaknesses cited by the report are no website to inform the public on its activities and no independent body to investigate complaints against the Constitutional Court.
The independence of public sector employees (civil servants) is “not secured by law and not protected in practice,” concluded the TI report. Legal provisions concerning transparency are limited and therefore transparency is not guaranteed in practice.
While provisions to ensure accountability in the public sector are to a large extent in place, they are insufficiently used or largely ineffective. Presently the public sector does not engage in significant efforts towards educating the public on corruption, neither does it collaborate actively with civil society or the private sector on the subject of corruption, said the report.
The legal framework for public procurement is “limited and because information on public procurement is not made public its effectiveness in practice is difficult to assess.”
“The Corporate Governance Council is to no extent effective, giving leeway to the public-owned companies in their performance,” said the report.
The report called for the establishment of an independent Integrity/Good Governance Institution for all (semi-)government institutions, and recommended, for example, the use of the Council for this task by changing its objectives.
Human resources in the law enforcement sector are “limited” with higher positions within these agencies “filled by foreign professionals on short-term contracts with little experience with St. Maarten’s society,” said the TI report. There is “a lack of career development” to prepare local talent to take over top management positions.
Challenges in terms of independence of the law enforcement sector exist due to the financial relationship with the government.
“Regarding the effectiveness of control mechanisms and transparency of these agencies, improvements can be made. Anti-corruption activities have not led to significant impact as regard bribery cases so far,” cited the report.
The key strength of the Police Force and Prosecutor’s Office is strong legal provisions on accountability and integrity, while their weaknesses are limited transparency mechanisms, insufficient speed regarding processes on investigation and prosecution of corruption cases and no ownership of cases (Prosecutor’s Office) due to rapid turnover of prosecutors.
The electoral management bodies (EMBs) are “not yet fully resourced according to law.” Although in general they operate in a transparent manner, no information on the finances of political parties was made publicly available at the time this assessment was concluded, which also limited the assessment of in-practice indicators, said the report.
The transparency of individual investigations into public activities by the Ombudsman can be improved, said the report. The Ombudsman has adequate resources to accomplish its tasks effectively in practice.
The overall performance of the General Audit Chamber, taking into account it has only existed for four years, was judged as “sound” by TI.
The legal framework regarding the activities of the Audit Chamber is in place. However, the report said that in practice the Chamber was affected to a certain extent in performing its main tasks by the relative ineffectiveness of the administrative bodies with which it needs to cooperate. “Considering its overall importance to the NIS, the chamber faces challenges and requires support to continue with its efforts.”
Most civil society organisations lack professional staff, said TI. With the exception of the service organisations and the unions, organisations “rely entirely on local government funding.”
Civil society in St. Maarten is “weak,” partly due to a decrease in financial means and partly because of changes in the funding environment and lack of information available to them.
“Mechanisms for ensuring transparency in practice are almost non-existent. The accountability could not be assessed because of lack of information. The ability to hold the government accountable and to influence its policy is practically non-existent,” said the report.
In general, the legal framework for doing business in St. Maarten is “favourable.” In practice, however, lengthy procedures might hamper the establishment of new businesses, said the report.
While rules on integrity within certain branches exist, in practice the integrity in the business sector is “insufficiently present.”
The business sector is “not involved in anti-corruption policies” and has “no relationships” with civil society in fighting corruption. A key weakness in the business sector is the lack of competition authority.
The media in St. Maarten, in practice, according to the TI study, “do not seem to operate in a transparent way and their independence, although different for broadcast and written media, is not safeguarded to a large extent.”
“Human resources in written media mostly depend on foreign workers, who are dependent on local officials for their resident permits,” said the report. It also criticised the media, in general, for not carrying out investigative journalism, although some do expose cases of (alleged) corruption and contribute to making people aware of corruption in the society.
As a whole the media provide the public with general information, with some media entities also being critical.