Published On: Sat, Dec 9th, 2017

Checks and balances

By Hilbert Haar

Local politicians are – for the most part – playing nice with the draft national ordinance Integrity Chamber. That institution has to be established sooner rather than later and with the Dutch demand to make this a condition for the release of a 550 million recovery fund, the matter has become rather urgent.

That Parliament will approve the law is already a done deal, even though – as USp-MP Frans Richardson pointed out on Friday – most parliamentarians haven’t even read the 90-page document that contains all the details about the legislation. Richardson noted that at least he had not finished reading it yet.

In the meantime, Richardson maintained – as others have done before him – that he is not afraid of an Integrity Chamber. At the same time, he muttered that the legislation will “change the culture of our people” and that the Integrity Chamber will determine in the future who can or cannot become a minister.

That is, obviously, not correct. I don’t know how the Integrity Chamber would be able to change the culture of the people in St. Maarten, but maybe MP Richardson knows something I don’t.

One thing the Integrity Chamber will certainly not do is determine who can become a minister. For those appointments there is already a procedure in place: the screening process.

What the chamber will do however, is look into possible integrity breaches; ministers, parliamentarians, government-departments and government-owned companies all fall within the reach of such investigations. Maybe that is what worries some parliamentarians the most.

One good thing: as a ZBO (independent governing organization) with legal authority, the Integrity Chamber itself will fall under the jurisdiction of the office of the Ombudsman. So checks and balances are in place on all levels.

I noticed with some amazement how the fiercest opponent of the Integrity Chamber back in 2015, MP Franklin Meyers, this time only had a few short remarks to make. He thought the term binding advice to be an oxymoron, saying that it would be better to call these advices from the Integrity Chamber instructions.

But an oxymoron? I always thought that the term ‘honest politician’ is the prime example of an oxymoron – an expression that contains two (seemingly) contradictory words.

Turning the term binding advice into instruction seems to be a bad idea to me. It is too rigid. The main point is that the government and government-owned companies have to take an advice about integrity issued by the future Integrity Chamber damn serious. But because the Integrity Chamber is not closer to God than anyone else on our island, it is always possible that such an advice is completely, or slightly, off the mark.

In such situations the term ‘binding advice’ comes in handy. It gives the recipients cause for deep thought, but it also offers a way out: if there are compelling and well-founded reasons to ignore it, that can be done.

Maybe this gives politicians too much wriggle room because, how are you going to argue with what someone else considers well-founded reasons?

It takes two to tango, as the saying goes and this is also true for improving levels of integrity in the public sector. If you are serious about it you play by the rules. If you are not, you bend those same rules at your convenience. But if that happens, I’m pretty sure Kingdom government representatives will be looking over our shoulders – again. They’re good at that.