Published On: Mon, Jun 22nd, 2020

Will Parliament and Government allow Dutch takeover of the Prison?

Grapperhaus at Pointe Blanche Prison - Laura Bijnsdorp

Dear Editor,

On Monday, June 22, 2020, at 7:00 am, Sint Maarten time, Chris van Dam, Member of the Dutch Second Chamber, will be presenting a motion to the Second Chamber in which he is requesting the Dutch Government to establish that the prison system of Sint Maarten be taken over completely by the Kingdom Council of Ministers for a period of five (5) years at the expense of Country Sint Maarten.

Mr. Van Dam sent a copy of this motion to our Members of Parliament with a letter explaining his reasons for submitting it. He ends his letter by writing “should you have any questions about the motion then feel free to contact me”.

As the Coalition in Parliament and the Government seem to be paranoid when it comes to matters concerning Dutch takeover, I would have expected them to have already sounded the alarm and warn the people that “the Dutch are coming”. But instead, there is only silence from Government and from the Coalition. I expected the Chairman of Parliament to call an emergency meeting of Parliament to discuss this matter and the Government to take a position on this issue. As Second Chamber Member, Van Dam, was so courteous and respectful to inform our Members of Parliament of this pending motion, our Parliament should have replied, post haste, letting him know whether they agree or disapprove of this motion. Greek philosopher Plato said that “silence gives consent”. Should one then conclude that no reaction from our Parliament and our Government means that they are in favor of the complete takeover of our prison by the Kingdom Council of Ministers at Sint Maarten’s expense?

Does Sint Maarten have the finances to support such a takeover? Knowing the current precarious liquidity position of Sint Maarten, why would the honorable Chris van Dam even dare include in his motion that the takeover would be at the expense of the Government of Sint Maarten? Is the Dutch thinking that the expenses of the takeover can be deducted from the liquidity support? Besides paying, what other roles and functions would Sint Maarten be playing in this Dutch takeover? Would locals serve as counterparts and or be trained to be able to take over the management when the Dutch expertise leave? These are questions that our Parliament and Government should be asking? If they do not have questions, they should at least take a stand and let it be known to the Dutch prior to the motion being passed.

I am sure that no one will dispute that our prison system is in shambles as far as management, staffing, building, detention capacity, facilities, resources and in every other way. The Government is still paying the salaries of the three past directors who are at home. The prison system is so bad that in December 2017 the European Court of Human Rights declared the detention of a detainee in a Sint Maarten police cell as unlawful. The Sint Maarten Progress Committee, which evaluates on a regular basis whether agreements made to improve the prison system are being carried out, has registered very little progress and improvement in our prison system during the past ten (10) years. The Dutch Kingdom has come under fire by the European Human Rights Council because of our prison system being way below the acceptable human rights standards.

All of this is known to the current Coalition and Government who blamed, criticized and figuratively crucified the former Minister of Justice, Mr. Cornelius de Weever, for doing nothing about the prison. As Parliamentarians, Silveria Jacobs and Egbert Doran, our current Prime Minister and Minister of VROMI visited the prison in July 2019 and promised that they would continue to look into the matter of the prison. The current Coalition and Government having had so much criticism about the prison system, one can only expect that they will do whatever is necessary to fix it.

One thing can be said about Mr. Van Dam, who was a former prosecutor, and that is, that he has been consistent in his efforts to see the prison system in Sint Maarten improved. In October 2019, he presented a similar motion to the Second Chamber which was adopted. Since then he has been asking questions and requesting reports and other documentation concerning the prison system in Sint Maarten. When the motion was presented in 2019, State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, Mr. Knops, was not in favor as according to him it restricted the autonomy of Sint Maarten. Besides that, he felt that the motion was not opportune at that time, given the political situation of Sint Maarten.

As the Point Blanche prison and the police detention cells in Philipsburg do not meet the human rights standards, they put the Kingdom of the Netherlands in a bad light within the European Court. I do not know if this could be the driving force behind Van Dam’s motion to improve the prison system in Sint Maarten. But what I do know is, that his efforts will certainly help to raise the standards of our prison system. Our Parliament and Government should take Van Dam’s efforts seriously and do whatever lies in their power to support the various efforts that would lead to a prison system where our buildings, facilities, personnel, management, legislation, etc. meet the European Human Rights standards.

I ask our Parliament and our Government to let the people know if they are in favor of Van Dam’s motion to enable the Dutch to take over the prison system, at the expense of the Government of Sint Maarten, for a period of five (5) years.

Wycliffe Smith
Leader of the SMCP


Photo caption: File photo of Dutch Minister of Justice & Security Ferdinand Grapperhaus at Pointe Blanche Prison while on a work visit on St. Maarten in May 2018.

Related links:
Knops advises against Van Dam’s prison motion
Van Dam wants Kingdom to take control of Pointe Blanche prison
Minister of Justice reacts to Van Dam motion