Published On: Thu, Sep 23rd, 2021

Integrity Chamber Quick Scan: Police less efficient and sharp decline in quality at the prison since 10-10-10

PHILIPSURG — Political instability and the frequent change of government since 10-10-10 have resulted in organizational instability within the Ministry of Justice. This appears from a Quick Scan the Integrity Chamber conducted to establish the most significant bottlenecks and challenges in the ministry’s integrity infrastructure.

The Integrity Chamber’s researchers met with Justice Minister Anna Richardson and with the heads of the police force, the immigration and border protection services, the National Detectives Agency and the Pointe Blanche prison.

Yet, according to the report, none of the respondents was familiar with the contents of the integrity studies that were performed between 2014 and 2016, even though several of those studies had the country in uproar at the time.

There are reports from the General Audit Chamber (Baseline Study Sint Maarten – State of Affairs Institutional Integrity Management; 2014), the Bob Wit Committee (Doing the Right Things Right; 2014), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (Integrity Inquiry into the functioning of the government of Sint Maarten; 2014) and Transparency International (National Integrity System Assessment; 2015).

The current makers and shakers at the Justice Ministry seem to be unaware of the existence of these reports, let alone of the recommendations they offered.

The Quick Scan points out that there has been a change of government every fourteen months since 10-10-10. “This frequent change in government has led to organizational instability. Every sitting government establishes their own governing program/goals which can change the priorities of the ministry. The frequent change also causes a lack of consistency in the objectives, and a lack of consistency in the performance of some of the core processes and procedures necessary for the effective functioning of the ministry.”

Political instability also hampers the ability to plan and execute long-term goals, the report states.

“Plans that were previously agreed to or being worked on are often not followed through or put on hold. This has had profound consequences on employees’ performance and behavior, a lack of motivation, a lack of direction and lack of respect for leadership.”

Understaffing is “a prevailing concern” at the justice ministry where employees remain in vulnerable positions for lengthy periods. “The longer an employee occupies a certain position, the more knowledge that employee may have of the processes and procedures necessary to execute the function. However, that also means that the possibilities for knowing the loopholes within the procedures are greater, which can increase the risk of misconduct.”

Placing employees long-term in temporary positions “can lead to uncertainty and leave the position vulnerable to possible political influence.”

The Integrity Chamber furthermore found that there seem to be insufficient possibilities to (permanently) remove employees from a position when undesirable behaviors are repeatedly displayed. “While the possibility of administrative leave is utilized, the possibility for more severe sanctions, or even termination, is extremely difficult and can take years.”

The no work no pay policy for employees who abuse sick leave has been abolished and will only be applied if the minister signs off on it, the report states.

There is a lack of motivation among several employees, the report notes. It mentions lack of material and financial resources, low salaries, limited possibilities for career growth, being unfit for a function, placement in temporary or acting positions, as demotivators. “Demotivated employees are more likely to display undesirable behavior.”

The report identifies decision-makers, employees with frequent client contact, or with low salaries as the ones with high integrity risks. “The vulnerability increases in an environment with understaffing, and in an environment of non-compliance or non-enforcement.”

Changes since 10-10-10 have resulted in “a less efficient police force” and in “a sharp decline in the quality of the prison,” the report states.

The police force and the prison struggle with understaffing, inadequate housing and a shortage of facilities.

At the police force, the low starting salaries for junior officers are an integrity risk. “This may lead to a need for them to perform (questionable) secondary activities for extra income or increase their risk for bribery or other unprincipled behavior.”

At the prison understaffing is a serious issue. Staff-levels are at 70 percent, while the Pointe Blanche Prison is at max capacity with 80 inmates.

Dealing with severe integrity breaches presents a peculiar problem. Putting someone on administrative leave leads to (further) understaffing while the process for replacement cannot be initiated as long as the employee is on administrative leave.

The sharp decline in quality at the prison comes for the account of successive governments, it appears from the report. “The instability of government, and the various perspectives and decisions of the previous Ministers have had an adverse effect on the functioning of the agency, its processes, and operations and more specifically, the management and staff.”

When the prison is at maximum capacity, inmates are sent to Curacao or the Netherlands. Others qualify for early release. But, as the Integrity Chamber-report notes: “The possibility of early release, in an effort to alleviate the prison capacity, is in itself an obstruction to the goals and objectives of the Ministry of Justice.”