Published On: Mon, Jun 22nd, 2020

Knops advises against Van Dam’s prison motion

State Secretary Raymond Knops - 2020042402THE HAGUE –- State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) advises against the motion tabled by CDA-MP Chris van Dam that asks the government to let the Kingdom Council of Ministers control the Pointe Blanche prison for the next five years. The Dutch Parliament votes next week Tuesday on the motion.

Knops noted that the motion connects with the ambition to provide solutions for the situation at the prison, but that it is “untimely.” Letting the Kingdom Council of Ministers take decisions about the prison while St. Maarten will have to bear the costs, as the motion proposes, infringes on the authority of St. Maarten, Knops said.

Van Dam tabled his motion during a consultation of the Parliamentary Committee for Kingdom Relations in The Hague.

Van Dam proposed to intervene at the Pointe Blanche prison, based on article 43 of the Kingdom charter “or any other grounds – I leave that to the cabinet.”

“Everybody is concerned; the situation at Pointe Blanche is unsustainable,” Van Dam said. “According to the Progress Committee, the situation is only getting worse.”

It is time to draw conclusions, Van Dam argued, given the fact that nothing has worked during the past ten years. “The toilets in the prison are worse than those at the worst campsites I have seen in France. There is now €13.5 million in the budget for the prison, but St. Maarten does not have capacity to execute. They received container cells from Bonaire but they are still standing empty.”

André Bosman (VVD) called the Pointe Blanche prison a permanent stumbling block. “And the government intentionally does not do anything about it.” Bosman referred to a statement made to him by former Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever: “If the problem becomes serious enough it will become a kingdom-problem.”

Bosman furthermore noted that the Kingdom Charter is a hindrance in the relationship between the countries in the kingdom: “The responsibilities are unclear.”

Bosman’s biggest beef is with the government in Philipsburg: “The politicians are intentionally not cooperating. If the government of St. Maarten does not want to do anything, then what are we going to do?” he wondered. “We are not going to solve this through intervention. Maybe it will solve the problem of the prison but it won’t solve the problem of the Charter. They don’t want supervision, they want money.”

Knops acknowledged that the Pointe Blanche prison does not meet any standards. “It is a matter of will power and capacity and it is justified to include improvements at the prison as a condition for the next tranche of liquidity support.”

Knops made clear that the way things are going in St. Maarten do not help: four different ministers of justice, a secretary general gone from the justice ministry and a fired prison director that left his position vacant for a long time – “Every time you have to deal with new people.”

Knops said that the Netherlands has offered assistance, for instance for the development of a business plan for a new prison, but that St. Maarten has not made use of it. He emphasized the importance of the fight against undermining criminality: ‘Too many politicians have been caught up in criminal activities.”

The state secretary prefers cooperation with St. Maarten over the imposition of control by the Kingdom Council of Ministers. “We can only apply article 43 of the Charter (the guarantee function) once all options have been exhausted when there is no more redress. That is still possible; St. Maarten has made provisions in its budget and we are busy with a business plan for a new prison.”

Van Dam said in a brief interruption that he had spoken with parliamentarians in St. Maarten and that they all gave him the same message: “Our options are limited.”

Knops acknowledged that all reports about the prison – be it from the Progress Committee or the Law Enforcement Council – point out the same issues every time. “But I give this government the benefit of the doubt and I feel that the time has passed when they denied in St. Maarten that there is a problem. The results of the past are zero, but giving the Kingdom Council control of the prison is the ultimum remedium.”

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Related links:
Will Parliament and Government allow Dutch takeover of the Prison?
Van Dam wants Kingdom to take control of Pointe Blanche prison
Minister of Justice reacts to Van Dam motion