A very overgrown trench behind Prins Willem Alexander Primary School in St. Peters has residents worried should a storm threaten the island. Bush has taken over the trench by overhanging it as well as taking root in the canal itself. The little water in the trench is stagnated and the passage choked with garbage, improperly disposed of by people in the area or washed down over the time from the surrounding hills. Residents call on the Public Works Department to clear this trench and others in the neighbourhood. “It’s like a jungle out there,” said one resident. (John Halley photos)
MARIGOT--The Executive Council at its most recent meeting voted to release 20,000 euros of emergency aid for farmers and livestock breeders to enable them to purchase much needed water and foodstuffs for their animals.
The subvention has been given to Association de Développement de L’Elevage et la Promotion des Produits Agricoles Locaux (ADEPPAL) to purchase supplies and distribute on a priority basis.
It was noted the current drought has affected the whole of the Caribbean for the last six months, caused US1-million dollars in lost crops and thousands of dollars in value of cattle that have perished. The drought additionally brings on a decrease in livestock production rates, fertility rate and has a negative influence on weight.
At a meeting in the Préfecture on July 16 with livestock breeders it was decided to incorporate St. Martin in the Préfecture of Guadeloupe’s fact-finding mission to assess the damage in the agriculture sector. This inclusion in the national system will enable St. Martin to be recognised in the future in terms of agricultural disasters due to drought and thus be able to access emergency aid.
With regard to structuring of the fishing industry in St. Martin the Council voted to choose the letters SW (for Swaliga) for registration of fishing vessels and other maritime purposes. Up to now the letters PP from Guadeloupe have been used. The new letters have to be approved first by Contrôle de Légalité.
It was also decided to create a territorial committee for shellfish culture, marine fisheries and marine farms. This committee will be charged with the promotion of fisheries, development and enforcement of regulations in the sector, achievement of economic actions, participation in the public policy of development of fishing industry professionals and providing scientific and technical support.
According to the Collectivité’s information, St. Martin has 12 registered professional fishermen and 38 part-time or informal fishermen. Some 10 fishing vessels are also registered with just under half being the “Saintoise” type of boat.
The untapped fishing sector is regarded as having potential to create employment as retired fishermen need to be replaced. St. Martin has access to funds amounting to 769,196 euros from Fonds Européen des Affaires Maritimes et de la Pêche (FEAMP) compared to 8.2-milion-euros for Guadeloupe.
In the 2014-2020 compensation plan for the fishing sector a further 3.1-million-euros is estimated for additional cost while FEDER in the 2014-2020 operation programme is making 1.25-million-euros available for port investment, for example two docks for fishing boats.
Anguilla and St. Maarten can also cooperate on obtaining INTERREG funds.
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.
BERLIN/PHILIPSBURG--There is a “general gap” between laws on the books and the practice and enforcement of those laws in St. Maarten’s key institutions, the global anti-corruption organisation Transparency International (TI) said in a report published Tuesday.
The gap is “a major obstacle for consolidating the democratic foundation of this new country and weakens its accountability mechanisms. It will limit the success of any future programme promoting good governance and countering corruption, if not addressed,” the organisation said.
Based on the findings of the St. Maarten National Integrity System assessment, Transparency International recommended that government initiate a process of dialogue with all sectors of civil society and the private sector to raise awareness of the impacts and cost of corruption in St. Maarten, and commit to a roadmap towards greater integrity.
Government also should increase resources that should be dedicated to the implementation of existing transparency and accountability regulations in the public sector, to ensure their enforcement in practice, according to TI.
“Political parties must disclose accurate and timely information on their income and expenditure, including the dates of donations, precise amounts and the names of the donors,” TI said. “Transparency of political party finance is crucial to ensure that oversight institutions and citizens can find out whether politicians are acting in the interests of the public or only of the select few.”
TI’s recommendation for financial disclosure is already somewhat covered by the existing National Ordinance on registration and financing of political parties.
Under that ordinance, all parties and candidates of the September 2014 Parliamentary Election had to submit detailed donation registers and financial reports. The failure by one party to comply with the deadline in the law already has led to the Electoral Council levying a fine of some NAf. 5,000.
St. Maarten’s National Integrity System assessment – a study of the anti-corruption efficacy of the island’s principal institutions and actors – was undertaken over the past year and found that the public sector and civil society were the weakest links in the country’s ability to fight corruption. In addition, weaknesses in political parties and a lack of transparency in political finance undermine the effectiveness of key institutions.
“To increase people’s trust in institutions and public officials, it is necessary to ensure proper integrity procedures do not only exist in the books, but are also implemented and enforced in practice,” said TI. “St. Maarten needs to dedicate further resources and efforts to this with urgency. To enable citizens to hold officials to account when this does not happen, transparency across all sectors of society needs to be enhanced.”
“Corruption is not an issue that can be dealt with by a single institution or government agency alone. The government needs to initiate a multi-stakeholder dialogue with all sectors of society, including business and civil society, in order to be effective in curbing corruption,” said TI’s Regional Director for the Americas Alejandro Salas. “Only by working together can a better future be achieved for all of St. Maarten’s citizens.”
In the public sector, TI said legal provisions concerning transparency were limited, while provisions to ensure accountability were in place to a large extent yet largely ineffective in practice. Also, the legal framework for public procurement is weak, with opacity around the decision-making process being especially prevalent in regard to state-owned companies.
In contrast, the electoral management bodies, the Ombudsman and the audit institutions “score relatively well” in the assessment.
The research showed “they are largely independent and have the potential to create an effective system of checks-and-balances, acting as an important defence mechanism against corruption. To be more effective, however, these institutions require increased cooperation from other institutions and sectors they interact with,” said TI.
The study illustrated “broad concerns” about some sectors that are vital for promoting integrity and good governance.
An example of this is political parties that do not function well in many aspects, said TI. In particular, parties are not transparent in their internal procedures, lack party programmes or platforms and are weak in their ability to represent social interests.
“Effective political competition is limited due to opaque and unequal access to financing and the tendency of ‘jumping’ from one party to another which undermines a stable political environment. In addition, the legislature does not make full use of the oversight instruments at its disposal to hold the executive to account,” said TI.
Residents of Foga are fed up with what seems like the never-ending construction project in their area. The extremely dry weather has led to sand constantly flying into homes, said one resident. “We are eating sand every day.” The access way to the area was “abruptly changed” leaving residents to figure out how to get home. “It is all inconvenient for us. This has been going on for two years now. Work stops and starts,” the resident said. The project falls under St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation. Complaints about the situation have been lodged with the foundation as well as the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI. Residents have now planned to approach the Ombudsman Bureau to look into their plight. This John Halley photo shows the ongoing work to complete the road in the area.
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