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Dutch government demands local corruption investigation and integrity screening from St. Maarten

WEDNESDAY, 17 APRIL 2013

THE HAGUE–The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament and Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk expressed their concern about developments in St. Maarten during a debate in Parliament on Tuesday.

Terms like corruption, mafia, banana republic and a mess were used frequently, mostly by Members of Parliament (MPs) Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) and Sietse Fritsma of the Party for Freedom PVV.

Van Raak saw no reason to continue cooperation with St. Maarten when the local government “clearly had no intention” of tackling corruption, crime and financial mismanagement.

Fritsma said St. Maarten was “unworthy” of the Dutch Kingdom and, like Curaçao, should get out of the Kingdom.

Other MPs were a bit more reserved in their choice of words, like André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party, Pierre Heijnen of the Labour Party PvdA and Vera Bergkamp of the Democratic Party D66. They too voiced their concerns about the level of integrity and the financial situation of St. Maarten’s government. St. Maarten was referred to as a “problem child.”

Curaçao’s financial situation and the pending appointment of a new cabinet there came up a few times, but, as expected, St. Maarten dominated the two-hour debate. Van Raak called for a “big spring cleaning.” Bosman asked when the Kingdom Government would intervene via the so-called guarantee function in the Kingdom Charter. Heijnen requested that Minister Plasterk draw up an “escalation ladder” and define circumstances when The Hague should intervene and when not.

Plasterk said he shared the Second Chamber’s concerns about St. Maarten. He echoed his concerns in his answers to the questions posed by the MPs. Financially, St. Maarten does not have things in order and the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT is not satisfied, he said. This might be a reason for the Kingdom Council of Ministers to give St. Maarten an instruction, warned Plasterk, adding that he had total confidence in the CFT.

According to Plasterk, there are too many rumours circulating about corruption, violation of human rights and financial mismanagement. “This causes much damage to the reputation of the Kingdom. The situation is very worrisome,” he said.

He explained that the Kingdom Government had requested recently that St. Maarten’s Minister Plenipotentiary Mathias Voges relay two specific issues to his government in St. Maarten. First, Philipsburg has to see to it that the Orca corruption investigation by the local Prosecutor’s Office is carried out and that the situation is addressed by local authorities. Second, it must ensure that the members of the next cabinet, after the elections, pass a strict integrity screening before they can be appointed.

Plasterk promised that he would relay the Dutch Parliament’s concerns to the Kingdom Government, but remarked that intervention via Article 43 of the Charter remained an “emergency measure” to be used when all other possibilities of redress by local authorities had been exhausted and all warnings had failed. “This is really very different from not agreeing with what is happening in St. Maarten.”

He warned against generalising. “We have to treat each other in a respectful manner. Respect in the Kingdom has to come from four sides. Surely we have to be able to tell each other the truth, but be specific and don’t just call names,” he said, clearly aiming at some of the terms that had been used by the SP and PVV like mafia, corruption and banana republic.

Bosman (VVD) said he would keep sticking his nose into the business of the islands as long as The Netherlands remained responsible for issues such as good governance and human rights in the overseas countries. He questioned the real autonomy of the countries. “It is like taking your mother with you when you leave your paternal house to live on your own. How independent are you then really?”

This remark triggered Bergkamp (D66) to question the attitude of The Netherlands towards the islands. “You live on your own and your mother comes along. But things get difficult when your mother is always angry and makes reproaching remarks all the time.”

Heijnen (PvdA) said the people on the islands were victims of the wrongdoing, crime, corruption, human-smuggling and general mismanagement by their governments. “It is not the fault of the people. They don’t want to feel ashamed about these things. The constant bashing from The Netherlands is not good, even though I am sometimes also guilty of this,” he said.

All MPs voiced their concerns about St. Maarten’s financial situation and the country’s budget. They expressed worries about the intentions of the Curaçao and the St. Maarten governments to take on new loans. These loans should not happen behind the CFT’s back and they should not lead to new debts.

“They want to borrow money through the back door, via all sorts of tricks. We will end up with the bill when they go bankrupt, and I cannot accept that,” said Van Raak (SP).

Plasterk emphasised that The Hague would not grant any budget subsidy to the countries. “Curaçao and Aruba haven’t asked for such either. We have an ongoing discussion with St. Maarten about finalising payment of the debt reorganisation. My two predecessors have already said it and I have the same message: the debt reorganisation window is closed.”

Rijksministerraad zet St. maarten onder druk

17 APRIL 2013

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