Published On: Sat, Dec 9th, 2017

Integrity Chamber law now ready for handling in Parliament

PHILIPSBURG – “The term binding advice is an oxymoron.” UP-MP Franklin Meyers said on Friday during a debate in the central committee of Parliament about the draft national ordinance Integrity Chamber. “An advice is an advice and it is up to the Council of Ministers to adhere to it or not. If it is binding it should be called an instruction.”

The debate in Parliament lasted about 2.5 hours. Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs, Rafael Boasman, walked the Parliament through the history of the Integrity Chamber legislation, ending with a remark about the negative advice that came back from the Council of Advice. “They said that the initial draft was not in accordance with the protocol of May 24, 2015. It was not possible to make the amendments to the draft on short notice due to the arrival of Hurricane Irma.”

In the initial draft, the government proposed to appoint members to the Integrity Chamber based on nominations by the Common Court of Justice, the Ombudsman and the Council of Advice. The 2015 protocol however contains an agreement that one of the three members to the chamber would be nominated by the Netherlands and one by St. Maarten. The third member – and chairman – would be nominated by the other two members. That is the proposal in the current draft ordinance.

Minister Boasman said that the government had also dropped the idea of establishing the chamber as a high council of state because this would require an amendment to the constitution. “It will be an independent governing body with legal authority that offers binding advice.” Boasman said. The government can only deviate from such an advice based on “sound and solid arguments”.

NA-MP George Pantophlet noted that the legislation is tied in to the release of a €550 million recovery fund by the Netherlands. “What guarantee do we have from the Netherlands that it will release these funds once we approve the legislation?” he asked. “I will not agree to any draft unless it can be established that we will receive those funds.”

USp-MP Frans Richardson said that his faction sticks to the decision it took in January. That month, the Parliament passed a motion to block the establishment of the Integrity Chamber.

Now, Richardson said: “Nobody is afraid of an Integrity Chamber, but this is going to destroy the fabric of our society. The Integrity Chamber will determine who will sit there as a minister in the future. We are accepting the norms of others and that is changing the culture of our people; that hurts very much.”

Richardson furthermore charged “that the Integrity Chamber is telling us that we can no longer associate with each other. We have become a judgemental society and we continue to add more burdens to our people.”

Richardson admitted that he had not even finished reading the draft legislation. “The majority in here hasn’t even read it and I did not finish it either,” he said. “There is a race to the finish line. Parliament has to do the magic trick and blindly approve the Integrity Chamber.”

MPs also asked questions about the right of the Integrity Chamber to enter any location – with the exception of private residences – in the course of an investigation. Such actions, whereby the chamber could also seize data, documents, equipment and data carriers requires however written permission from its supervisory board. Minister Boasman also emphasized that the chamber will only do administrative investigations into integrity breaches. Criminal investigations remain the domain of the Public Prosecutor’s office.

The draft legislation is now ready to go to a public meeting of Parliament for debate and the expected approval. After the Parliament approves the legislation, the office of the Ombudsman has six weeks to review the ordinance for a decision about taking it for review to the Constitutional Court. If the Ombudsman considers such a step necessary, it could delay the establishment of the Integrity Chamber by at least a year.