PHILIPSBURG--Economic and political instability, coupled with the varying governing methods of successive ministers, have led to an environment where misconduct can go unnoticed or take place without any consequence, according to the St. Maarten Integrity Chamber after a quick scan of the Ministry of Justice.
The Integrity Chamber found that the executive agencies in the Justice Ministry – St. Maarten Police Force KPSM, Immigration and Border Protection Services (IBPS), the National Detective Agency and the Pointe Blanche prison and house of detention – proceed autonomously. “As a result, legislation, regulations, and certain knowledge and experiences are not shared.”
The executive agencies do address misconduct, the Integrity Chamber noted, “However, this is on an ad-hoc basis when a (rumoured) misconduct takes place.” All respondents indicated that “integrity is important for their organisation; however, the structural implementation is lacking.”
Organisational instability is being experienced in KPSM, IBPS, the National Detective Agency and the prison, according to the report. “The frequent change in government affected the long-term goals and objectives of the executing agencies, the understanding of the specific operations of the agencies, and led to demotivation of employees.”
Five years after the last publication of a study of the status of integrity in the public sector of St. Maarten, the Integrity Chamber decided to conduct a baseline integrity measurement in the form of a quick scan of the different ministries to gain understanding of the current integrity infrastructure. The main tools utilised for the quick scan of the Ministry of Justice were interviews with the Minister of Justice, Chief of Police, management of the National Detective Agency and the prison, and with policy advisors. They were each interviewed by two persons from the Integrity Chamber.
The subsequent report provides vital information, the researchers stated: “The most pressing and urgent needs are presented.”
The Integrity Chamber indicates that there is a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework in place in the Ministry of Justice, including the code of conduct and other integrity-specific infrastructure. However, the function books are incomplete.
“Incomplete function books are mentioned by respondents as one of the main causes of lower salaries for employees. These employees may become more susceptible to bribes and other forms of corruption.”
Minister of Justice Anna Richardson stated that her cabinet is in the process of finalising the function books and the system of ranks specific to the Justice Ministry.
No integrity training since 2014
The respondents recognised a need for regular integrity training and workshops. All the persons interviewed indicated that integrity is a vital part of their agency, and several initiatives have been taken to ensure integrity. However, the execution of training activities to imbed the importance of integrity in the executing agencies is still limited. The last training specifically on integrity occurred in 2014.
The Ministry of Justice is responsible for safety and the public order of society, the Integrity Chamber stated. “The employees should therefore always display integrous behaviour, as they are role models within the community. However, based on the information provided, there seems to be insufficient possibility to remove employees from a position when undesirable behaviours are repeatedly displayed.”
While the possibility of administrative leave is utilised, the possibility for more severe sanctions, or even termination, “is extremely difficult and can take years”, the report concluded.
Staff shortage problems
A prevailing concern of the Ministry of Justice is understaffing. This has led to several persons performing multiple functions within the ministry. “Persons fulfilling multiple functions may not be able to execute each function to the best of their ability, and the combination of functions can sometimes lead to a conflict of interest.”
Some employees tend to occupy the same position for lengthy periods. “In cases of vulnerable functions, the rotation of staff would lessen the risks of integrity-related misconduct,” the Integrity Chamber stated. “There are several employees placed in acting positions that are meant to be held for a temporary period. In cases where the employees are simultaneously executing their acting function and their primary function it may also lead to a conflict of interest.
The Integrity Chamber registered a lack of motivation among several employees. “Different reasons for this were mentioned: a general lack of materials and financial resources, low salaries, limited possibilities for career growth, being unfit for a function, placement in temporary or acting positions. All serve as demotivators for employees.”
In the absence of a specific reporting procedure, Minister of Justice Anna Richardson is currently establishing an “Internal Affairs Committee” which will handle all complaints within and against the ministry.
Still lacking are regulations concerning data usage, data protection and data sharing. Respondents also indicated a lack of sufficient information technology hardware and software for the effective execution of their tasks and objectives.
Of the four executive agencies reviewed, only Immigration and Border Protective Services does not have an extensive legal and regulatory framework. While the framework that governs regulatory processes is present and applicable, there is a lack of regulations that specifically determine the organisation’s behavioural standards.
The Integrity Chamber noted that IBPS nonetheless is dedicated to avoiding undesirable behaviour utilising several informal integrity-related processes. “Procedures include temporary internal transfer and the department has also taken the initiative to provide staff with training in the application of the laws governing the admittance and expulsion of applicants as well as in the guidelines.”
The Integrity Chamber recommends that Justice Minister Richardson allow for a governmental remuneration system that takes the circumstances of the executing agencies within the Ministry of Justice into account. “Attach an explanation to the National Ordinance establishment and organisation national government LIOL of the Ministry of Justice to reflect the actual working of the executive agencies within the Ministry to prevent agencies operating in conflict with the legal and regulatory framework.”
The minister is also advised to ensure awareness of integrity by accessibility of the legal and regulatory framework and providing staff with frequent training and refresher courses.
Lastly, the Integrity Chamber recommends facilitating discussions on integrity-related matters and integrating these discussions into the organisational structure.