Published On: Tue, Aug 17th, 2021

Useless political saber rattling

By Hilbert Haar

The history of St. Maarten’s Integrity Chamber is an interesting one. Parliamentarians bickered endlessly over the establishment of this institution and when they finally agreed with it in August 2015 (only the National Alliance faction with William Marlin, Silveria Jacobs, George Pantophlet and Christophe Emmanuel voted against) the Ombudsman sent the law for review to the Constitutional Court.

That court found ground to strike the law down and it took until December 2017 before an amended version was back in parliament. It was again approved. Current MP Emmanuel was at the time Minister of VROMI and therefore co-responsible for submitting the law to parliament.

It is therefore rather surprising (or maybe not) that Emmanuel now suddenly turns against a law that was tabled by a government of which he was a part.

In a steaming press release he has now labeled the Integrity Chamber as a useless institution that hides behind the law. All this after the Chamber kindly pointed out to the good MP that, based on the law, it is not in the business of offering opinions and that, by the way, requests for advice cannot be submitted by individual parliamentarians. Now Emmanuel wants to change the law. At least, he has announced in his press release that he “will be looking at amending” the ordinance – whatever that means.

If Emmanuel had read the ordinance that governs the Integrity Chamber before he wrote his letter asking for an opinion about an ancient bribery-case that involved Ballast-Nedam he would have (and should have) known that: 1. the Integrity Chamber does not provide opinions and 2. individual parliamentarians cannot ask the Chamber for advice.

What he could have done was report suspected abuse by Ballast-Nedam as a private citizen. In that case he would have received a reply that read something like: Thank you for your concerns, but this matter was settled like eons ago. No cigar.

The conclusion must be that Emmanuel either did not understand what the Integrity Chamber is about and how it functions, or that he damn well knew all this but that he did not want to pass on an opportunity to engage in some useless political saber-rattling.

The good MP seems to take some liberty with established facts as well, or so it appears from his press release. For instance: the MP states that the parliament is “the highest body in the country, even above the Council of Ministers.” That is simply not correct: the Constitutional Court is the highest body in St. Maarten. Remember that this court struck down a version of the Integrity Chamber ordinance that was approved by parliament?

Another example: St. Maarten was “forced to establish an entity (read: the Integrity Camber) after the country was devastated by hurricane Irma.” Wrong again. Remember that the first version of the Integrity Chamber ordinance was approved by parliament in August 2015? Like, two years before Hurricane Irma?

Anyway, that’s politics for you. Facts only matter when they support a politician’s anti-Dutch narrative. A former member of parliament once claimed – incorrectly – that St. Maarten did not receive any support from the Netherlands after Hurricane Luis in 1995.

MP Emmanuel applied the same way of thinking to the law after he did not get his way with the Integrity Chamber. In his opinion that “useless entity” is “hiding behind the law.” Mind you, this is a law the government presented to parliament when Emmanuel was a minister.

And now that Emmanuel has been made to understand that he cannot play the game his way, he wants to look at amending the law.

Please note that looking at a law has never changed anything. If I were a betting man, I know where I would put my money. I would bet that Emmanuel will never present an amendment to the Integrity Chamber law to parliament. The odds are heavily in my favor.


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