Published On: Sun, Feb 14th, 2021

Knops: “St. Maarten has made too little progress”

THE HAGUE — State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) and Minister Sander Dekker (Legal Protection) share concerns about the dismal conditions in St. Maarten’s detention system and say that improvements cannot be delayed any longer. Knops states this in answers to written questions from members of the Dutch parliament.

“The problems are persistent and St. Maarten has made too little progress,” Knops reports. The Green Left faction asked how Knops thinks he can prevent these problems that are caused by “inadequate execution of the plan of approach and the lack of decisive leadership at the Ministry of Justice.”

Knops reports that the €30 million ($36.4 million) support package for the prison system will be spent under the direction and supervision of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice and Security and in consultation with St. Maarten’s Ministry of Justice.

Of the support package, €20 million ($24.3 million) is earmarked for the construction of a new prison. The remaining €10 million ($12.1 million) is reserved for “other parts of the plan of approach for the next five years.”

Strengthening the Ministry of Justice is the responsibility of St. Maarten, Knops states in his answers. “The Netherlands offers support.”

That support consists of contributing to the appointment of a program manager (a longtime recommendation from the Progress Committee) and two country package-measures that are part of the agreement that has to result in the establishment of the Caribbean Development and Support Organization (COHO). The Netherlands and St. Maarten will serve as the joint principals for an assignment to UNOPS for the construction of the new prison. The second condition is that St. Maarten will execute agreements of October 19, 2018 that are related to repairing damages caused to the prison by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Knops writes that Justice Minister Anna Richardson asked the Netherlands on October 9, 2020 for “help, assistance and cooperation.” The funding for this assistance will be paid from the trust fund. The package includes help with the appointment of a program manager, training options for prison staff, provision of a human resources advisor, and a contribution to structural improvements like renewal of the prison’s lightning protection system and repair of the fire alarm installation. Lastly, the Netherlands will pay a part of the preliminary research by UNOPS into options for the construction of a new prison. UNOPS is the United Nations Bureau of Project Services. St. Maarten will have to make a structural provision in its annual budget for the remaining costs.

Knops emphasized that realizing human rights remains the responsibility of St. Maarten, but that the Kingdom is responsible for guaranteeing these rights. The state secretary furthermore notes that the Dutch government is not convinced that taking control of the prison system (as a motion from MPs Van Dam and Bosman suggests) is the best choice. Separating management and authority in the system is going too far, because in infringes on St, Maarten’s autonomy. “The assistance, the measures in the country package and the €30 million financial support are the right way to arrive at the long-desired improvements of the detention conditions,” Knops writes.

The state secretary states that the container cells St Maarten received in 2019 from Bonaire have not been put to use. According to St. Maarten the costs of placing and installing them is too high and the government questions their suitability, given environmental factors like the hurricane season.


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