PHILIPSBURG--Justice Minister Anna Richardson (National Alliance) announced in Parliament on Wednesday that an Action Plan for the Crime Prevention Fund will be ready before the end of the month. A spending plan for the multimillion-dollar fund will be in place for the first time since 2010.
Supervision of the transfer of fines and forfeitures to the Crime Prevention Fund, and the use of those funds by the St. Maarten government, is one of the Country Reform Package Priorities and Objective Measures 2021 for continued liquidity support from the Netherlands.
A draft Action Plan from the Ministry of Justice, following recommendations of the Law Enforcement Council, was submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK, Richardson said. “It was submitted for comments in September and will be finalised this month.”
The Crime Prevention Fund exists based on the Landsverordening houdende instelling van een criminaliteitsbestrijdingsfonds (National Ordinance establishing a crime prevention fund). Despite the existence of this law regulating management and tasks, the administration of the fund is partly non-existent and otherwise disorderly.
When reviewing the fund in 2019, the Law Enforcement Council discovered that the Minister of Justice – the manager of the fund – did not have any data for the years 2010-2016. “Justice appeared to only have data from 2016 onwards. From 2016 to 2018, money from the fund was awarded 30 times. This involved NAf. 4.3 million (US $2.4 million),” the Council stated in its report.
The Council found imperfections in the dossiers. “Not for all projects could it be established that the allocation of funds was carried out in accordance with the National Ordinance Crime Prevention Fund and the Comptabiliteitslandsverordening.”
The Crime Prevention Fund is constantly struggling with backlogs. The Prosecutor’s Office OM SXM announced in July of this year that it aimed to collect some NAf. 1.8 million in outstanding fines from fine dodgers, a total of 3,999 fines.
The Prosecution said it had great difficulty tracing all offenders and it already assumed that the total amount would not be collectable.
The 3,999 traffic fines were issued from 2017 to 2020 for various offences. Of the total notices already issued, 217 were returned to OM SXM by Postal Services St. Maarten (PSS) due to incomplete/incorrect addresses for the fine dodgers. A total of 53 fines were not claimed from mailboxes, 19 addresses on the French side were inaccessible, 87 addresses were incomplete, 64 had unknown addresses, 21 people with fines had moved from their listed addresses, and one person had since passed away.
A total of 1,466 payment notices were issued for fines issued in 2017. There were 1,075 unpaid fines for 2018, amounting to NAf. 337,357. For 2019, 1,016 fines had yet to be paid, totalling NAf. 316,207. The unpaid fines for 2020 numbered 1,720, totalling NAf. 750,704.
Both the Council and other organisations inspected the Crime Fund in recent years and made recommendations for improvements. The Council noted that such attention and recommendations had not led to substantial and structural improvements.
In particular, the Council inspected whether, since 2010, funds from the Crime Fund had been allocated to projects for which the Crime Fund is intended. The Council’s conclusion was that, even with a broad explanation of the expressions “project” and “combating crime”, there had been hardly any expenditure made as envisaged by the legislator with the Crime Fund. Opportunities for the development of combating crime by means of projects have remained largely unexploited, the Council concluded.
The law stipulates that the fund is managed by the minister of justice and that, under the minister’s supervision, the day-to-day management of the fund is entrusted to the head of the Judicial Affairs Department. Every year, when presenting the budget, the minister must present a policy plan indicating the projects that are eligible for funding from the fund in the financial year.
The Law Enforcement Council advises the minister of justice to comply with the legal obligations as stated in the National Ordinance Crime Fund. “Include a policy plan to the annual budget listing the various projects that qualify for funding by the Crime Fund” and “Guide the process toward the instalment of the steering committee for the fight against crime, and involve the committee in the management of the Crime Fund.”
The minister is advised to develop an up-to-date policy for the Crime Fund. “In doing so, take into account the criteria, processes and procedures with regard to the submission, handling, granting of project requests and (justification of) decisions in this respect and include the necessary definitions.
“To limit risks of improper use and misuse of funds from the Crime Fund, establish rules and safeguards in a National Ordinance. Ensure that the physical and digital administration/registration with regard to the submission, review, granting and payment of projects is complete and ensure that the procedures and documents pertaining to the applicable legislation and policies are complied with and are obtained in a timely manner.”
Richardson stated in Parliament on Wednesday that all the recommendations of the Law Enforcement Council have been included in the new action plan for the Crime Prevention Fund. The new policy will be implemented from 2022. In addition, according to the council’s recommendations, more publicity will be given to the spending from the fund for combating crime in St. Maarten, she assured.