PHILIPSBURG--The Kingdom Council of State has requested a stay on the voting by St. Maarten's Parliament on the national ordinance establishing an Integrity Chamber for St. Maarten. This was the word from Deputy Prime Minister/Justice Minister Dennis Richardson.
Richardson said at a press conference with Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs in Dr. A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall that the request had come from the Council of State vice-chairman last week Thursday. Based on that request, he said he was not worried about appearing before the Council in The Hague on Monday afternoon along with Dutch Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk.
Asked whether he could trust the request from the Council to hold off on the reading of the draft law and subsequent voting on the law in a plenary session of Parliament, Richardson said if the just, independent and non-political Kingdom Council of State played games with St. Maarten, the country was "really in the pit of the kingdom."
If the Council appears to be manipulated by the Dutch Kingdom Government then "it is high time to put an integrity chamber in the Netherlands," Richardson said.
The minister was asked by the press whether he trusted the request of the Council of State based on his comments last week that a similar request from the Dutch Kingdom Government for St. Maarten to hold off on tabling its law to establish the Integrity Chamber while a mutual agreement was reached had turned out to be a "play for time."
Richardson believes the request to hold off on voting on the law has more to do with the Council of State wanting to seek an agreement between St. Maarten and the Dutch Kingdom Government than a stalling tactic that could be to the detriment of St. Maarten, which is still in its infancy as a country within the kingdom.
Gumbs explained that Richardson's appearance before the Council of State had to do with a change in approach by the Dutch Government. This approach calls for a kingdom measure to bring into force an integrity chamber dominated by Dutch Government appointees and civil servants. This approach has to be put before the Council of State; thus Monday's hearing at 5:00pm Dutch time.
This approach of the Dutch could well be one where they want "to stack" the Integrity Chamber with the Dutch "secret service." This way the Dutch can "do a criminal witch hunt."
The Dutch Government, in its draft on the Integrity Chamber, wants the Chamber to screen all parliamentarians, ministers and civil servants.
Richardson said he hoped the Dutch realised that the members of the Kingdom Cooperation Team RST and the Prosecutor's Office were "also civil servants."
Should it come to pass that the Dutch only want St. Maarteners to be screened by the Chamber "it will be quite a thing on St. Maarten," he said as a warning to the Dutch Government.
Speaking of the heated and often emotional debates in the Central Committee of Parliament last week and earlier this week about the draft law prepared and tabled by the Gumbs Cabinet, Richardson said it was "quite understandable for MPs [Members of Parliament – Ed.] to question the law in depth."
That questioning comes more into focus with the fact that no such law exists anywhere else in the kingdom, let alone the Netherlands, he said. With that in mind, any law on integrity should be "balanced."
The St. Maarten draft law differs significantly from the Dutch Government version, as it offers protection to people who are subjects of an integrity investigation. Richardson believes the Dutch Government version cannot receive the nod from the Council of State, as it clearly ignores human rights in the event of an investigation.
"The law, in my opinion, cannot be upheld" by the Council of State, Richardson said.
"We believe we will be able to convince our Parliament that this is a good thing," Richardson said, pointing out that it was a known fact that St. Maarten's weakness was "compliance" and not the lack of legislation.
That is the gap the Integrity Chamber is meant to fill – establishing where policies and regulations are lacking and investigating integrity breaches, he said.
There is still "some confusion" about the role of the Integrity Chamber, with some people thinking it will be charged with investigating criminal cases. This is not so, said Richardson. He explained that the Chamber would concern itself only with integrity breaches and should any breach cross into the realm of criminal activity it would be reported to the Prosecutor's Office.
Both Richardson and Gumbs are at a loss about the Dutch Government's tying together of the Integrity Chamber with its offer of Justice System assistance to St. Maarten as well as Curaçao and Aruba. The Justice assistance that should come only on the request of one of the Dutch Caribbean Justice Ministers "has been put on the tail of the integrity issue," said Gumbs.
"Why the two issues are tagged is a mystery to me," added Richardson. "It is a complete riddle to me and all our lawyers."
St. Maarten officials have been open to compromise "to try to prevent a confrontation" or "a constitutional crisis" with the Dutch Government. But, now in a push to get its way, the Dutch Government has come up with what can be termed as "two new law enforcement agencies" instead of the agreed-on assistance when requested by a justice minister.
That move by the Dutch Government to further infringe on the autonomy of the country is tantamount "to cursing in the church of constitutional law."
By forcing to get its way on Justice matters, the Dutch Government is creating a severe breach of integrity and wants to pull St. Maarten along with it on this unlawful path, said Richardson. If the Dutch believe St. Maarten will go along silently with this plan, Richardson said, "You have to be a joker ... you have to be loco."