Published On: Mon, Mar 19th, 2018

Stricter screening …. in the Netherlands

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

The municipal elections in the Netherlands that take place on Wednesday have brought the issue of integrity in local governments sharply into focus. Reading through reports in Dutch newspapers it seems that the Netherlands is in more need of an Integrity Chamber than the Netherlands. The reality: St. Maarten has such an institution and the Netherlands doesn’t.

But the new Minister of Home Affairs Kajsa Ollongren leaves no doubt about it: the criminal world and legitimate society are seriously entwined in many Dutch municipalities.

Ollongren now wants a stricter screening for aldermen (comparable to commissioners in the Executive Council of the Island Territory and – given the scale of our island – also comparable to ministers in the executive branch in St. Maarten). The minister wants a mandatory declaration of no objection (Verklaring Omtrent Gedrag) for aldermen and they will also have to undergo an integrity review, the Volkskrant reported on Monday.

Ollongren is also considering a stricter screening for mayors. Her initiative comes at the request of the Second Chamber. “There have been already for some time concerns that criminal elements easily infiltrate local politics,” the Volkskrant notes.

The declaration of no objection will not become mandatory for candidates that have been elected to a municipal council. That violates the constitutionally anchored passive voting right, the minister says.

Ollongren is preparing legislation that regulates that council members are not allowed to vote about matters in which they are personally involved.

Furthermore, the minister wants to appoint a referee for persistent conflicts of integrity. The Commissioner of the King or the Minister of Home Affairs would get the authority to remove an alderman from office via a so-called special instruction.

Currently the national government can only dissolve a local government in a situation of “general disfunctioning.”

According to the Volkskrant this kill or cure remedy was last used in 1951, thereby overlooking what the government did in Statia not too long ago: it dissolved the island council, sent the commissioners home and appointed Mike Franco as the governments commissioner.

Jan Tromp writes extensively in the Volkskrant about the infiltration of criminal elements in local politics. “Bribes, money laundering and threats; but limited administrative and legal instruments to fight it.”

It is not surprising that the criminal interest in local affairs focuses on construction projects and permits – exactly the place where the interest of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in St. Maarten lies with its investigation against Windward Roads. Civil servants are in the crosshairs of investigators in this case and it should not surprise anyone that the top civil servants at the department of Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) is getting most of the attention.

Tromp tells the story of Brunssum’s mayor Winants who wandered in 2015 perplexed through the catacombs of a house on a hill in his municipality. The chalet belonged to an arrested drug dealer; investigators found weapons, drugs and a complete lab for the production of amphetamines. That the house has subterranean vaults and darkroom-like chambers was something the mayor never knew.

Research showed that a permit request had been submitted, but that the request had been shoved into a cupboard and ‘forgotten’ until the term within which the municipality has to react had expired. That way, the permit was granted by default.

The mayor started looking around and found a civil servant who was living way beyond his means. The man ended up in court for money laundering.

What this mayor did is something that is sorely missing in St. Maarten, a place where everybody knows everything about anybody else. That’s right: looking around, paying attention and taking action.

Even better: our decision makers routinely close their eyes for integrity violations – and worse. The prosecutor’s office has dragged the owners of several local brothels into court and after a conviction for human trafficking asked the government to close those places down. Never happened.

The head of the department of Infrastructure, Claudius Buncamper, has been sentenced for tax fraud. The case is still on appeal, but the government did nothing. The LMA – the rule book for civil servants – says that dismissal is possible against someone who has become the subject of a criminal investigation. It’s possible, but not mandatory.

Then there is Member of Parliament Chanel Brownbill – a suspect in the Emerald-investigation into fraud with invoices at the harbor. No matter how you look at it, with such a suspicion hanging over your head, you are tainted.

And not a single member of Parliament has made an issue out of this. Even better, Brownbill was received as a son of the soil in the ranks of the United Democrats. Innocent until proven guilty.

But that is not how it should work in politics. If there is a serious accusation against you out there, then you have only one thing to do: get the hell out of your seat, if need be temporary if you think it is worth your time to prove your innocence.

This is where all legislation falls short. The conditions under which a politician has to leave office are too generous, too lenient. Those rules don’t apply to a hapless youngster who robbed a supermarket and was stupid enough to get caught.

Unfortunately, the rules that apply to politicians are made by politicians. History shows that the self-cleaning power of the body politics is not on the level.

And so, whether we like it or not, we are stuck with a so-called parliamentary democracy and with elected representatives – not all of them, but too many – who are making a mockery of the principles on which it is supposed to be based.