Prime Minister says she cannot force her ministers to respond to media questions

Prime Minister says she cannot force her ministers to respond to media questions

~Ministers won’t sit with media~

PHILIPSBURG--“I cannot hold any minister with a stick over the head to respond to questions,” Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said on Wednesday during the Council of Ministers press briefing in response to the question: “How can the media hold ministers accountable if they cannot be reached for answers?”

Jacobs maintained that government is responsive, stating: “There is openness and transparency which we would like to continue to promote.” However, she said, “Ministers have expressed also concern about the manner in which certain questions are asked.”
Questions from the media are sent to ministers in writing, as per the advice given in the weekly press briefing. Reporters for different media outlets often do not see their emails answered, as they have repeatedly stated during their meetings with the work group of the Ministry of General Affairs for the establishment of a new media policy.
When called via WhatsApp, several members of the Jacobs Cabinet do not answer phone calls, reporters have stated. The other ministers pick and choose which persons to respond to. The same applies to questions in writing.
The level of communication varies greatly between ministers. Overall, the most responsive member of the Council of Ministers is Minister of Justice Anna Richardson, through her spokesman Luis Hurtault. Richardson is also known for late-night press releases.
Current issues that have been addressed by media in writing, without receiving (substantive) reply, are, amongst others, the expenditure on travels of twelve Members of Parliament to the Netherlands for participation in the Interparliamentary Kingdom Consultations IPKO, questions regarding the investigation into the NV GEBE hack, and about the non-active Victim Support Bureau, specifically why Head of Victim Support Cassandra Richardson is assigned to Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor VSA Omar Ottley in another capacity.
Also, a letter from the editor of The Daily Herald to Ottley about the Electronic Health Authorization System (EHAS) remained unanswered. The letter read: “With regard to the new Civil Code, effective October 1st, 2022, The Daily Herald would like to ask you the following: Although EHAS was meant to be temporary, some of the EHAS employees have completed 3 six-month contracts earlier this year, and thereafter are still working for Government, as per your instruction.
“According to the former Civil Code, as well as the new Civil Code, these employees are eligible for a permanent contract with Government, is that correct?”
It was further stated that: “The Daily Herald received information that a first group of workers, those that completed multiple contracts, has been asked by two co-workers to leave per October 15. Is this information correct? Could you clarify the circumstances and the legal basis for the current employment of these EHAS workers, the months they are working since completing the third contract until their dismissal on October 15?”
Jacobs said during the Council of Ministers press briefing: “Questions can be asked in writing and should be responded to as per government policy in general, that we respond to queries to government.” She added that she would see to it that the questions about EHAS would be answered; at least that receipt of the letter was confirmed to sender.
Jacobs surprised the members of the media on Wednesday by stating that the Council of Ministers denied their request for a meeting to discuss the new Media Accreditation Policy that was published in the National Gazette on September 16, without the media having agreed to this policy. While Jacobs stated that the request for further discussions was denied, no official notice of this was made to the media.
Jacobs’ statements contradict the letter she sent to The Daily Herald’s Managing Editor Gordon Snow on May 11, 2022, as contact person for the St. Maarten media corps.
In this letter, Jacobs stated: “Concerning your request for a meeting with the Council of Ministers (CoM) and DComm [Department of Communication – Ed.], I wish to inform you that I have installed, for practical purposes, an ad hoc technical workgroup, which will be chaired by the Department Head of DComm. The initial meeting with the workgroup will be scheduled to address the concerns of the media.
“Further, should there be a need for any subsequent meeting(s) we would be happy to facilitate this in an attempt to properly address the media’s concerns, after which the workgroup will advise the CoM on the way forward. Should there still be a need, after said dialogue, the media corps will be invited to meet with the CoM.”
On Wednesday Jacobs made it publicly known that the media will not be invited. “There was a request for further follow-up with the Council of Ministers, but the CoM did not see it necessary to have any further follow-up as the technical work group had the mandate with which they would continue.”
Prior to this, the media were not informed that the technical workgroup was mandated to establish the Media Accreditation Policy. At the start of the discussions, the media had been informed that the workgroup had an advisory role.
After the publication of the new Media Accreditation Policy in the National Gazette on September 16, the media requested the head of DComm to take this publication down, because the media had not agreed to the content of this document.
One of the main points of contention is that, based on the published Media Accreditation Policy, it is the government and not the media houses that decides who is a journalist and who is not.
Each journalist must provide three samples of their work to be reviewed and decided on by government. “Accreditation will only be given on proof that the applicant has satisfied all the requirements imposed by this policy and a track record of qualitative journalistic reporting of the news has been established. Applications are considered on a case-by-case basis,” the Accreditation Policy reads.
Media houses have contended that they are responsible for who they hire as journalists and for the choice as to which journalist will represent the respective media house at the Council of Ministers press briefings. However, the government decided that media passes are non-transferable and the number of media passes will be limited for each media house.
According to Jacobs, it is not necessary for the media and government to find common ground. “Full agreement is not required,” she said. “It is a policy of government. It involves stakeholders which we have engaged with, and we have adjusted and amended just as much as we were willing to do.”
At the end of the day, she said, “It is up to the ministers to decide if it is in the best interest to answer or not.” The ministers have the prerogative to choose what information will be shared, Jacobs said. “Certain information will not be made public.”

The Daily Herald

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