By Suzanne Koelega
THE HAGUE--The Kingdom government has ordered a more stringent screening of St. Maarten's incoming Council of Ministers. The Kingdom Council of Ministers decided on Friday to give St. Maarten Governor Eugene Holiday an instruction to hold off on the appointment of the ministers and prime minister until it is absolutely certain that they are in the clear.
The Dutch government will appoint a team of experts to assist the governor with the screening, announced Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk after the meeting. He didn't want to give details to the media on who exactly these experts would be and whether they were of the Dutch intelligence service AIVD.
Plasterk said that the screening would go further than to only check whether the candidate ministers had a criminal record. "Guarantees are needed that no problems will evolve after the appointment." (See related article)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed the instruction for St. Maarten at his weekly press briefing. "In light of the outcome of the elections and the formation process, the Kingdom Council of Ministers has given the governor an instruction to wait with the appointment of the ministers until there is sufficient guarantee that nothing stands in the way of being appointed. The decrees to appoint the members of the Cabinet can only be signed by the governor when it is clear that there are sufficient guarantees for integrity," he stated.
Rutte said the integrity of St. Maarten's government was at stake, which was confirmed in two separate integrity reports. These reports, drafted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Wit-Samson integrity committee, showed conflict of interest situations and abuse of power on all levels of the St. Maarten government.
The prime minister answered the question by this newspaper whether this instruction, the second for St. Maarten since September 2013, didn't create unnecessary additional tension in the Dutch Kingdom, with a firm 'no'.
Rutte said that the Kingdom government was executing the agreements that were part of the constitutional reform process that granted Curaçao and St. Maarten the status of country within the Kingdom on October 10, 2010. Focal points in these agreements were finances and legal security. "We are strictly sticking to the agreements with the countries. They have to comply with the standard. I won't be of any bother if they do so," he said.
According to Rutte, the situation in St. Maarten is of such a serious nature that internal redress by the local government was no longer an option and that an instruction was required to deal with the situation. He said the standard screening of the candidate ministers prescribed by the St. Maarten law was "too thin."
Rutte said the measure by the Kingdom government didn't focus on one specific person, in this case, candidate Prime Minister Theo Heyliger. "We need a Cabinet with members that are beyond any doubt."
Plasterk denied that the instruction was given to specifically prevent Heyliger from becoming prime minister. "The decision is not aimed at individual persons. We have to be certain about the integrity of all members of the Cabinet."
He estimated that the additional screening of the candidate ministers and prime minister will take a few weeks. "It will not be a matter of months," he told the media.
Plasterk immediately informed the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament of the decision of the Kingdom government to have the governor hold off on the signing of the decrees to appoint the ministers and prime minister until further research has been done in addition to the existing screening procedure.
"With this instruction, the Kingdom government ensures that the governor has sufficient information to be able to decide whether he can sign the appointment decrees or that he has to apply article 21 of the Regulation of the Governor," Plasterk stated in the letter.
Article 21 prescribes that the governor, as Kingdom organ, has the authority not to sign a federal ordinance or decree in case he believes that it is in violation of higher laws or matters that are in the interest of the Kingdom.
The legal basis for Friday's instruction is secured in article 15 of the Regulation of the Governor, which states that the governor is the representative of the Kingdom government and has to carry out instructions stated in a Royal Decree. The same article was used to give the governor of Aruba an instruction in July this year to hold off on the signing of Aruba's 2014 budget until further research had been carried out.
St. Maarten's caretaker Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams was not present at Friday's Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting. She was only informed on Thursday that the country would be receiving an instruction the following day. Representing St. Maarten at Friday's meeting were Acting Minister Plenipotentiary Josianne Fleming-Artsen and Director of the Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary Perry Geerlings.
Plasterk will shortly present an action plan to strengthen the justice system in St. Maarten, which will be discussed in the Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting slated for November 7. Plasterk announced this plan, which will include sending a special (white collar) crime unit and an integrity supervisor to St. Maarten, two weeks ago in the Second Chamber during the handling of the draft 2015 Kingdom Relations budget.