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Complaints filed with St. Maarten Ombudsman increase on no response from government to requests and appeals

TUESDAY, 11 DECEMBER 2012

PHILIPSBURG–The number of “complaints” filed with the Bureau Ombudsman between April and September has shown an increase compared to the number filed during the same period last year. The main complaint has been “no response” from government on requests and appeals. A total of 137 complaints were filed this year; 119 were filed last year, according to Ombudsman Nilda Arduin-Lynch. Some 97 of those “complaints” were people visiting the bureau to get information about the procedure to file a complaint, according to Ombudsman Nilda Arduin-Lynch. As of the end of January 2013, the bureau will no longer take complaints about issues pending before October 10, 2010 – the date St. Maarten became a country within the Dutch Kingdom.

The law regulating the acceptance of complaints stipulates that the ombudsman cannot handle complaints older than a year. An exception was made for unhandled complaints prior to 10-10-’10, because some issues had still had consequences in the new status. Aside from the enquiries, the number one reason for complaints against government has been “no response” from government on requests, appeals and petitions. In other cases, the problem stems from government committees not in place to deal with a specific matter despite this being stipulated in a law.

The ombudsman pointed to the still-to-be activated Monument Council. There are also issues with the lack of government policies to regulate issues or written directions for the civil servants on the work floor to follow. That lack of coordination often leads to increased bureaucracy, because when a request/ appeal is filed, it has to be established who is competent to handle the matter. As done in the past, she reiterated the need for complainants to inform the entity they have a complaint with, the way the service was performed or not performed before registering a complaint with the bureau.

After meetings with government on these and other matters, the bureau developed several short-term targets for the administration. Responding to requests/appeals in “a reasonable time” has high priority. It has been established that government must acknowledge receipt of all correspondences within seven days. That letter must be followed up with a decision within four weeks. If the matter cannot be resolved by that deadline, the applicant must be informed about the status. Ultimately a decision has to be taken and communicated to the applicant within four months.

The second short-term target is for government to establish all outstanding committees by the end of December. That target was communicated to government by the bureau in July. The ombudsman expects that this goal will be met. The bureau will be closed to the public from December 24 to January 2.

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