Member of the Second Chamber, Chris van Dam of the CDA party.
THE HAGUE--There is no question of a unilateral take-over of the St. Maarten law and order system by The Hague, for such a decision needs to be on the basis of consensus. However, having the Netherlands be in charge of the execution of law enforcement for a limited period would be beneficial for the justice system, the island and its people, says Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Chris van Dam of the Christian Democratic Party CDA. Despite fierce reactions from some St. Maarten politicians, Van Dam is still convinced that he did the right thing when he proposed to the Second Chamber, through a motion early October this year, to look into the possibility of having the Netherlands play a stronger role in the management/supervision role of St. Maarten’s law enforcement system for five years.
The motion, which was adopted by a broad majority of the Second Chamber on October 15, requested the Dutch government to engage in talks with the St. Maarten government about the division of management/supervision and authority in the maintaining of law and order, and to see to what extent the Netherlands can play a bigger role in management/supervision for a period of five years. In an interview with The Daily Herald, Van Dam explained his reasons for tabling the motion, which was co-signed by five other Members of Parliament (MPs) of five different parties. Van Dam repeated the grave concerns that he has about the maintaining of law and order in St. Maarten. Van Dam, a former policeman and public prosecutor, said that these concerns originate not only from the feedback that he gets from island residents and from what he has been reading in the media, but there is also the fact of the frequent government changes which have resulted in inconsistent policy execution in the area of justice. “I keep hearing worrisome stories from St. Maarten. Governments keep changing, and the new government throws out the plans of the former government. This leads to a discontinuity of policy, which is not a good thing for the justice system because it requires consistent policy and investments,” said Van Dam, who also pointed out the very limited capacity of law enforcement in St. Maarten. The division between management/supervision and authority is clearly stipulated in the Netherlands. The final responsibility of management of, for example, the police in the Netherlands lies with the Minister of Justice and Security. However, the local authority and the day-to-day running of the police is a responsibility of the municipality where the facility is located. This is different in St. Maarten. “In St. Maarten, but also in Curaçao and Aruba, these responsibilities are held by one single person: the Minister of Justice. Everything is closely connected, and that is not a strange thing because the islands are small.” Having the Netherlands take over management/supervision of law enforcement can only be done on the basis of consensus, acknowledged Van Dam, who has taken notice of the fierce criticism by a number of St. Maarten politicians. “But I am convinced that many people will find this a good initiative, because a high-level, efficient law enforcement system benefits the community. Also, I have noticed that many people on the island don’t have a lot of confidence in how things are going now.” Van Dam did express appreciation for the work that recently resigned Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever has done, and the fact that he accepted the assistance that was offered by The Hague. “However, there is still a lot that needs to be done, the prison being the highest priority.” The Dutch government, in Van Dam’s opinion, should take over the management/supervision role so it can bring law enforcement up to par and to secure continuance. This does not mean that the Dutch government would pay the (entire) bill of this exercise. He remarked that St. Maarten pays for the assistance of the National Police from its own budget. He said the financing would remain a responsibility of St. Maarten. “I would say that St. Maarten should be happy with this heavy responsibility being taken over for a few years. I am aware that the initiative has to come from St. Maarten, but I hope that the local government sees the urgency,” he said. According to Van Dam, bringing the system of law and order to a higher level is also necessary to keep things from getting worse. And, a deteriorated situation could result in an instruction from the Kingdom Council of Ministers. “I hope that we don’t end up in the situation where this will be arranged in the atmosphere of the guarantee function of the Kingdom, Article 43 of the Charter.”