Minister Duncan again underscores need for MPs to pass BOB
PHILIPSBURG--Justice Minister Roland Duncan again has underscored the need for Parliament's swift handling and approval of the draft law on Special Investigative Authority BOB to enable law enforcement officials to carry out structured surveillance, phone tapping, infiltration and other activities.
Parliament began its deliberations on the draft uniform law in November. In the interim, Aruba's and Curaçao's Parliaments have approved the law and are awaiting St. Maarten's stamp of approval to put it completely into effect.
Duncan said Parliament could not be forced to adopt the law, but a proper explanation would have to be given to "our partners." Not passing the law in time for the international evaluation starting March 19 could result in problems with banking and investment restrictions. "Let's deal with this law expeditiously," he said.
The country is under "some pressure" to hurry up, especially since this regulation fits with the 49 "recommendations" put forward by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to combat money-laundering. This law would give law enforcement access to technology and methods "the other side, the criminal side, is already using."
Members of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, the FATF regional arm, will conduct an onsite assessment in the coming days. The delegation will evaluate the country's Anti-Money Laundering, Combating the Financing of Terrorism AML-CFT framework.
The Central Committee of Parliament held its final session on the BOB law on Thursday. Now, the law will be placed on the agenda of a plenary session of Parliament, possibly next week, for approval.
Some MPs still have issues with the possible conflict with the Constitution when it comes to privacy and possible abuse of the powers it will give to law enforcement.
Duncan said in addressing these concerns that while the Constitution gave the right to privacy, it was not an absolute right, as government and Parliament are given the possibility to regulate matters for the great good of the community.
To further allay fears about constitutional breaches, he pointed out that the law, once passed, would be reviewed by the Ombudsman Bureau, headed by Nilda Arduin, to see whether it infringes on the constitution. Any infringement would then be taken to the Constitutional Court by the Ombudsman, commonly known as the public defender, for a decision.
Law drafter Professor Hans de Doelder also commented that the concerns about infringement of the Constitution had been addressed and explained in several pages of the explanatory notes of the law, copies of which all MPs have.
Thursday's meeting centred on Duncan supplying answers to MPs to questions posed in past sessions and responding to new ones raised. He was accompanied to the Central Committee meeting by Chief Prosecutor Hans Mos and Justice Ministry staff.
Police officers, prosecutors and perhaps judges and other officials in the Justice system will be trained on execution of the law in "a proper fashion, the notification obligations and the destruction of the information at the end."
The Attorney-General of Aruba and the joint Attorney-General for St. Maarten and Curaçao also would have to put procedures in writing, so it is clear what route is to be followed in investigation in accordance with the law.
After the law has been passed, Duncan said, the question then is where all the technical equipment needed to carry out this specialised surveillance will be put. He prefers a centralised system for better control and cost effectiveness.
Independent MP Frans Richardson said the law would make St. Maarten resemble the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" television series. He was very concerned about the funds required to set up the systems needed to execute the law.
Duncan said that based on advice from the police, the initial setup and first year of monitoring would be about one million euros/US $1.3 million; some half of that amount is a one-time investment. Of the amount, a "tap room" setup would take about 100,000 euros; telecommunication links, which have already been negotiated with a service provider, 300,000 euros; training 100,000 euros; and installation of beacons and dishes 25,000 euros. A public information campaign also will be carried out.
Investigation cost will vary depending on the subject. Two of the largest investigations conducted recently had price tags of $600,000 and $1 million respectively. The investigations cost is "extremely high," said Duncan, but successful cases could yield money for the crime fund.
National Alliance (NA) MP George Pantophlet said the small scale of the country was never taken into consideration when demands were made by larger countries to implement such laws, and even when the demands were met, the country "never gets assistance" to offset its cost.
Democratic Party (DP) MP Roy Marlin said his party understood the need for the law; in its opinion "it is time to get this law passed." He urged President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell to move the process along. "The fact is, if St. Maarten wants to compete internationally, we need to comply. ... In the world we live, certain democratic rights would be looked at and scrutinised more carefully."
MP Louie Laveist (NA) again raised his concerns about possible abuse in the Justice system. He also reiterated his concern about a prosecutor being married to a lawyer and the possible conflicts this could bring about.
Prosecutor Mos said he understood the concern. If the spouse were working as a criminal lawyer, it would be "a no-go area." In this case, the prosecutor's spouse is a civil attorney. He added that the first question asked in an interview with a potential prosecutor was the occupation of the spouse, as would be done when candidates were interviewed in The Netherlands next week for a spot in the Prosecutor's Office that would become available soon.
United People's (UP) party MP Romain Laville raised concerns about the BOB and its similarity to the United States Patriot Act. Duncan said that while the laws were similar, the Patriot Act was far "more intrusive."