Published On: Fri, Jan 27th, 2017

Marlin: “Charge Audit Chamber with integrity investigations”

GREAT BAY – The government is considering an alternative to the Integrity Chamber, Prime Minister William Marlin said yesterday afternoon during a meeting of Parliament about the controversial appointment of Dutch quartermaster Hans Leijtens. That alternative would be expanding the General Audit Chamber with an integrity-investigation branch. The idea is currently subject to debate in the Council of Ministers; a decision has not been taken yet.

Members of Parliament shed their light on the issue extensively, mainly by rehashing the history of the Integrity Chamber legislation and – in the case of MP Frans Richardson – complaining about the fact that the Dutch had opted to convey the message of Leijtens’ appointment through the media.

MP Franklin Meyers said that his faction had voted in favor of the legislation last year and that the party had had “no problem with it.” However, in a central committee meeting in April of last year, Meyers was a fierce opponent of the legislation. The UP faction-leader said at the time that “independence is the only option for us now” and that “the Dutch don’t contribute anything to us. I am not going to cooperate with this. This legislation sends my people back to colonialism and slavery.”

This time, Meyers said that the integrity ought to be questioned of those who impose integrity on St. Maarten. “They are infringing on our basic human rights,” he said, referring to the fact that the Judge of Instruction who was present during the arrest of his brother Etienne ‘Tochi’ Meyers last year was the same judge who declared his arrest lawful. “Is that not a breach of integrity?”

The Dutch are imposing measures on us and that is wrong, Meyers said. “We can either accept it or fight it.”

MP Tamara Leonard wanted to know what the government is going to do about the situation. “We are in a crisis. Are we going to throw out this law and come up with something new?”

MP Theo Heyliger noted that all MPs were on the same wavelength on the topic. He spoke of “Gestapo-tactics,” saying that, “You could get incarcerated for talking to the electorate.” With an apparent reference to the arrest of casino owner Francesco Corallo, Heyliger used the term “Gestapo-unit” saying that it had come at 4 a.m. in the morning for a reality show – a reference to the video footage the prosecutor’s office released of the arrest. “And we have allowed this to be part of our system,” Heyliger said.

The UP-leader took a firm stand: “If we do not agree with the protocol, shoot it down.”

Heyliger was not done yet with his Second World War comparisons: “What is happening now in our country goes back to the 1940s when the Nazis occupied France, the Netherlands and other countries. You could call the Gestapo about someone and the next morning there would be a raid. They are destroying people, and companies that have lost major contracts. What will happen if we throw out the protocol and do away with the Integrity Chamber?”

Prime Minister William Marlin repeated what he said earlier during a press briefing about Leijten’s appointment: “I thought it was an April fool’s joke.”

Marlin confirmed to the Parliament that the government has not received an official communication about the quartermaster’s appointment. He noted that he was quite upset when he learned about the protocol in 2015; one of Marlin’s objections concerned the stipulation that the integrity legislation, once approved, could not be changed without prior consultation with the Dutch government and handling of the matter in the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

Like Heyliger, Marlin also spoke of “Gestapo-like people.”

He noted that St. Maarten appointed its quartermaster, Richard Begina, on February, 2015. Begina prepared the legislation for the Integrity Chamber with input from the Dutch, who did not appoint their quartermaster, though the protocol states that they should have done this before July 1, 2015.
“The game they played at the time was: do not get involved and don’t appoint a quartermaster. Let them do it. And we did.”

Judicial affairs have told the government that the law that was shot down by the Constitutional Court needs fundamental changes. “That is the direction we will go,” Marlin said, adding that he had told the Dutch already in 2016 that the Integrity Chamber was not a priority for his government – given the fact that it had only a handful of months until the elections in September.

“I have now suggested to expand the budget of the General Audit Chamber and to charge it with integrity investigations,” the PM said.

He noted that St. Maarten is still on track with the protocol. “There are no agreements that we have to come up with a new draft within two weeks or six months after the Constitutional Court shot it down.”
Dropping the integrity-investigations into the lap of the General Audit Chamber is practical, Marlin said, because it does not require new legislation, only a budget amendment and an instruction to the Chamber.

Deep into his presentation to Parliament, the real fear for the Dutch quartermaster materialized. Marlin said that the task of St. Maarten’s quartermaster had not just been limited to setting up the framework for the legislation. “He also had the task to report and if need be investigate integrity violations.”

The fear is now that the Dutch quartermaster will come to the island with the same authority.

“But what happens if we do not answer to the Dutch quartermaster?” Marlin said. He drew the comparison with a tourist coming to the government building asking for the keys of the prime minister’s car.

“The question would be: on what authority are you asking for those keys? Civil servants have the right to refuse cooperation with the Dutch quartermaster if he comes here while there is no Integrity Chamber,” Marlin concluded. “And then what will the Dutch do? Send in the army? We should walk away from it; we do not need an Integrity Chamber.”

Finance Minister Richard Gibson noted that St. Maarten has complied for one hundred percent with the stipulations of the protocol former Vice Prime Minister Dennis Richardson signed in 2015 with Minister Plasterk. “The Dutch government has defaulted. You cannot wait two years with the appointment of a quartermaster. If you don’t do it before the agreed upon deadline – July 1 2015 – you cannot just do it in January 2017.”

Gibson noted however that the government is not even sure that the quartermaster has been appointed; there is no official communication about it. “First we must make sure that this is indeed the case. And if it is, then we should point out that St. Maarten complied fully with the protocol. In these situations, people who respect each other sit down and talk.”

Gibson added that he is “shocked” that the Parliament even approved the Integrity Chamber legislation. “But I understand: there was duress, there was an instruction hanging over our head if you did not do this. You should however never pass a law that tramples upon the rights of the people.”
The meeting will reconvene on Monday.