By Suzanne Koelega
PHILIPSBURG/THE HAGUE--Establish a permanent Integrity Chamber as a new High Council of State to advise the Government of St. Maarten, invited and uninvited, on the general progress of integrity of the entire public sector, including government-owned companies and the appointment of top civil servants.
That is one of the most important recommendations of the Public Administration Integrity Committee, the committee that was requested by the St. Maarten government in October last year to look at the proper functioning of government with regard to integrity.
The 81-page report titled "Doing the right things right" dates from July 12 this year, and was released unofficially to The Daily Herald on Tuesday. The committee consists of Jacob "Bob" Wit (chairperson), Rieke Samson-Geerlings (vice-chairperson), Ron van der Veer (secretary) and members Ronald Bandell, Jan Beaujon, Richard Gibson Sr., Dick van Putten.
The committee presented 40 recommendations on various aspects dealing with integrity, including Parliament, the Council of Ministers, the Justice sector, government-owned companies, the housing of government offices, corporate governance, the role of the public, the issuance of permits and human trafficking.
The new Integrity Chamber would play a big role in promoting and supervising integrity matters in Country St. Maarten. It should have the specific authority to advise on the appointment, suspension and dismissal of persons in the boards of directors of government-owned companies and top civil servants, and to investigate the process of public tenders.
The independent and authoritative Chamber would serve as an advisor and, if necessary, a strict watchdog. It should have the authority to carry out audits, publish its advices and establish a hotline for alleged integrity violations.
Its members would be appointed based on a proposal by the president of the Joint Court of Justice, the vice-president of the Advisory Council, the president of the General Audit Chamber and the Ombudsman.
A number of recommendations have to do with the Parliament of St. Maarten, an organ about which the committee is particularly concerned. "The legislature should have an exemplary function, but both the institution as well as the individual members are too often, and often with good reason, negatively projected in the news, and don't seem to realise that because of that, the authority of the public sector as a whole suffers," it is stated in the report's conclusions.
One of the recommendations is to create a public register of paid and unpaid side-jobs of Members of Parliament (MPs) and the gifts that they receive, and to publish this on the Parliament's Website, just as in the case of the Dutch Parliament.
The full-time versus part-time functioning of MPs should be looked at again. If it is qualified as a full-time function, then certain side-jobs should be prohibited, according to the committee. If the job of an MP is deemed part-time, then the salary should be reduced accordingly. Conflict-of-interest situations should be taken into consideration.
MPs' financial positions should be recorded just before their appointment and shortly after their retirement, just as is being done in the case of members of the Council of Ministers. A public code of conduct for integrity issues should be made for Parliament.
The chairperson (prime minister) and the secretary of the Council of Ministers should supervise more strictly the possible conflicts of interest in the deliberation and decision-making in the Council.
Legislation regarding the screening of ministers and the registration of their financial positions at the start and end of their terms should be revised, using the screening method of Country Curaçao and the Curaçao National Ordinance on Integrity of Ministers as an example.
Draft a manual for incoming St. Maarten ministers that includes integrity issues. Give more priority to human resources management issues in the public administration and include integrity issues.
Parliament should have a debate on the General Audit Chamber's baseline institutional care assessment 2014 and implement the recommendations of that report. Also, organise an annual debate in Parliament on the annual report of the Audit Chamber, and possibly the annual reports of the Advisory Council and the Ombudsman.
Make sure that the basic organisations of the ministries are put in order, using the expertise of the Audit Chamber, the Ombudsman and the Association of Dutch Municipalities VNG. Government should strive for a professional public organisation with clear definitions of tasks, authorities, responsibilities and mandates. There should be clear rules for the political Cabinets of ministers as well as their size, appointment and tasks.
The purchase and renting of government offices should be investigated with the help of financial experts in the area of real estate. According to the committee, citizens have the right to know exactly what happens with tax money when government rents or buys offices, and to know what price is being paid and from whom the property is rented or bought.
The National Detectives ("Landsrecherche") are in dire need of structural strengthening. The committee advises drafting a multi-annual cooperation programme with the countries of the Dutch Kingdom and other partners like the US and France. There should be special attention for financial fraud cases.
Make more use of the public to report alleged integrity violations. The importance of integrity and the combating of fraud and corruption should be promoted at schools through a specific public relations (PR) programme, with the participation of groups in the civil society.
All information relating to the issuance of permits should be published online and otherwise. It should become public knowledge who has requested and received certain permits, the criteria used and for how long these permits are valid.
Organise periodic investigations into the safety, corruption, vulnerability and integrity of the harbour and airport, especially where it concerns drugs and human trafficking, organised crime and the combating of terrorism.
Government-owned companies should be obliged to provide information about their business operations on their Websites, including the publication of annual reports, annual accounts, business plans and the names and CVs of their management and board of directors.
Corporate governance experts should investigate to what extent the relations between government and government-owned companies should be revised to realise more transparency in these relations. Organise external, independent supervision on all public tenders of both government and its companies.
Directors of government-owned companies who are subjects of criminal investigation of serious integrity violations should resign until the investigation has been terminated. The new Integrity Chamber would give advice in these cases.
Existing legislation in the area of corporate governance should be revised, improved and strengthened. A corporate governance code should be implemented. The Corporate Governance Council should be terminated and its advisory role placed under the Integrity Chamber.
Plan of approach
The committee predicted that it will take a few years to institute the recommended Integrity Chamber, as the Constitution of Country St. Maarten will have to be adapted. In the meantime, a short-term plan of approach should be formulated to start with the execution of the committee's recommendations. A progress committee would monitor the subsequent steps.
The report also contained several recommendations to combat human-trafficking and the control of brothels and casinos. A National Human Trafficking Coordinator should be appointed and placed at the Prosecutor's Office. A critical evaluation of the Immigration Department should be carried out before 2015.
Brothel inspections should focus more on the combating of human trafficking. Equip the Tax Office so it can carry out more inspections in vulnerable sectors like casinos. The Gaming Control Board should be established within the short term.
The Daily Herald will be publishing more details of the integrity report in the coming days.