Published On: Wed, Nov 27th, 2019

Integrity Chamber’s integrity in peril

Integrity Chamber members

PHILIPBURG – What is going on with the Integrity Chamber? The quartermasters – Rafael Boasman for St. Maarten and Hans Lodder for the Netherlands – were appointed in May 2018. The national ordinance Integrity Chamber formally went into effect on December 28, 2018; since that date the institution exists but it has not done anything, even though one of its tasks is to give unsolicited advice. And now there is some controversy about the apparent appointment of the chamber’s chair.

The candidate – supposedly a joint nomination of Boasman and Lodder – is Rian Vogels. A picture showing Vogels flanked by Boasman, current Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, Hans Lodder and an unidentified fifth person [who turned out to be Chandra Pompier, a former tax inspector, Ed.] – suggests that the appointment is already a done deal, though a formal announcement has not been made yet. The Kingdom Council of Ministers appoints the chair.

The choice for Vogels is remarkable. She is a member of the right wing VVD – of all Dutch parties the one with the most integrity violations according to the Political Integrity Index. In 2018, VVD-politicians made headlines with integrity violations twelve times: Minister Halbe Zijlstra lied, parliamentarian Han ten Broeke maintained an incompatible relationship, while mayors Stefan Huisman and Fons Hertog had to step down because of misconduct. Several VVD municipal council members and aldermen also fell from grace due to integrity violations.

Against this background, Vogels does not come from a political family that holds integrity in high esteem.

Currently, Vogels is a senior judge at the court in The Hague. Though the function at the Integrity Chamber is a part time job – five days per month – the members of the Integrity Chamber cannot at the same time work for the judiciary. Vogels will therefore have to resign from her position at the court in The Hague. So far, no reports have surfaced that she has indeed resigned. The court did not immediately react to a question about Vogels’ current status. What remains clear is that the function of judge is not compatible with a function as chair of the Integrity Chamber. [Update: The court in The Hague informed StMaartenNews.com on Thursday that Judge Vogels has not resigned from her position.]

Vogels was also a VVD-candidate for a seat in the First Chamber – the senate – but she did not make the cut.

As a supporter of the VVD election manifesto, Vogels subscribes to the creation of a commonwealth between the Netherlands and St. Maarten, Aruba and Curacao. “They have to support themselves financially,” the manifesto states. “Independence and responsibility for these countries comes first.”

And then there is this issue: affinity with St. Maarten. According to the vacancy ad for the job, the chair of the Integrity Chamber must have affinity with the local culture and have an understanding of the interests that are at stake. There are no indications that Vogels meets this requirement. On the contrary: she comes from a party that promotes a commonwealth structure the islands do not approve of.

The apparent choice for Vogels is not the only issue that challenges the integrity of the Integrity Chamber. The Chamber has for instance hired Alexis Schoormans van Houten as its legal counsel. He previously worked for the ministry of Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure.

In that position, he supported the defense against a claim by the Pasanggrahan Hotel against St. Maarten. In violation of its own beach policy, St. Maarten had placed six kiosks that were located next to the courthouse until Hurricane Irma hit, on the beach in front of the hotel.

Another potential thorn in the Integrity Chamber’s hide is the choice for former Daily Herald journalist Alita Singh as its public relations official. In her previous job, Singh was moonlighting for the Harbor Group of Companies, while she was also writing about harbor-related issues for her employer. Furthermore, it has been reported that Singh wrote press releases for Theo Heyliger’s United People’s party (UP).

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UPDATE: Publisher’s note: The previous version of this article contained references in regards to the ownership of the building the Integrity Chamber is presently renting. These references are factually incorrect and as such have been removed by the Publisher.

Photo caption: From L to R: Rafael Boasman, Rian Vogels, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, Chandra Pompier and Hans Lodder.

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Related articles:
Why St. Maarten has an Integrity Chamber – Part 1
Integrity Chamber: a work in progress – Part 2
Slowly but surely the Integrity Chamber is taking shape – Part 3