What is the status of Integrity in St Maarten anno 2023

Dear Editor,

The Integrity Chamber came about because the Governor of St. Maarten, having taken into consideration that the problems concerning the integrity of the administration and constitution, identified in various reports, require an adequate and decisive approach to improve the situation that has arisen and that this approach was hereby proposed, August 21, 2015.

In perusing this Federal Ordinance on Integrity we learn the following:

- Chapter 1, Institution and Task, article 1-4

- Chapter 2, Layout and Composition, article 5-14

Integrity Chamber, paragraph 1

Secretariat, paragraph 2, article 15-16

Admittance law, paragraph 3, article 1

- Chapter 3, Supervision, management and resources, article 18-20

- Chapter 4, Advice from the Integrity Chamber

Paragraph 1, integrity violations, article 21-25

Paragraph 2, integrity policy, article 26-27

- Chapter 5, Registry and reporting, article 28-29

- Chapter 6, Other provisions, article 30-32

- Chapter 7, Transitional and final provisions, article 33-37

First of all, congratulations are in place for Mr. D. Franco with his appointment of being the first ever President of the Integrity Chamber Supervisory Council. Apparently Mr. Franco was appointed by Kingdom Decree as of January 1, 2023 for a term of three years. Why is it that we, the people of St. Maarten, are only now learning of this appointment in June, some 5 months later?

The Federal Ordinance establishing the Integrity Chamber went into force on August 21, 2015. Can the Integrity Chamber or the Prime Minister explain to the people of St. Maarten why there is a lapse, lack of continuity, seeing that some 7 years later it is deemed relevant to fill the important vacancy of President of the Integrity Chamber Supervisory Council? Why wasn’t this undertaken before?

Mr. Editor, something appears not kosher, and we the people have been kept since 2015 in the dark. The last CFT Chairman during his farewell address reportedly said that Corporate Governance was one of the biggest challenges facing Country St. Maarten and that the Integrity Chamber should fall under the CFT. Was this former chairman of the CFT alluding to something that has been hidden from the people of St. Maarten by the executive branch?

I guess some info can be gleaned from the fact that according to Chapter 3, titled Supervision, Management and Resources, there was no one appointed to head this most important office of Supervisory Council until the recent appointment of Mr. Franco as of January1, 2023. Perhaps the last 5 months Mr. Franco was working from his residence. Needless to say we are glad that he is finally here, as his delay could not have been caused by immigration issues. Chapter 2, paragraph 3, article 17, is applicable to him and his family.

Mr. Editor, the expectation was created in 2015 that better days are coming through the inception of the Integrity Chamber but there was no real commitment from the sponsors, cabinet of the Governor, Prime Minister and the Kingdom Council of Ministers to achieve such.

So now that it has been established that the Integrity Chamber has been understaffed since its inception, it is equally established that the people of St. Maarten have been fooled once again. The people of St. Maarten are constantly made fools of because we, as a people, hate reading. The people are kept under stress all the time that the only thing on their mind is survival. So efforts have to be put in place to fight on many fronts, among them self-development, self-enrichment, integrity and emotional intelligence.

Mr. Editor, it would appear that unless the Integrity Chamber can prove its legitimacy for being part of the fabric of this society in a positive way, meaning living up to the expectations created, it should be abolished. There is no need for more toothless tigers.

Chapter 5, articles 28-29 titled Registry and reporting. To whom does the Integrity Chamber have to report? Could the 28-29 be amended to reflect reporting to the people of St. Maarten? Can this be done retroactively? This info is of particular interest because the people can then determine for themselves if there has been a hands-off approach to the ills that were going on in the government-owned companies. It is reported that SOAB reports on GEBE and TelEm are hidden and not shared. What role is the Integrity Chamber playing here? Is this the way good governance, integrity and transparency should be promoted?

Did the Integrity Chamber look into the fact that many articles of incorporation were written more than 12 years ago? Are the lessons learned from the Enron scandal incorporated sufficiently in the articles of incorporation? If the Corporate Governance Code or the application thereof is not yielding improvement across the Boards, how is this been addressed? What about the Sarbanes Oxley Act, has the Corporate Governance Code been equally updated?

The environment in which business is conducted on St. Maarten is a changing one. 10 years ago there were many companies that could have done audits, today there are hardly any. This means, among others, that murders are being committed in broad daylight and no one cares. Many guardrails have been removed.

The Integrity Chamber knew it was not well staffed, there was no president of the Supervisory Council, yet the appearance was maintained that all is well. Did the aspects of the statute of limitations figure in any of these musings when contemplating the vacancies to be filled? Were there any conflicts of interests and how were these resolved?

The governor used many reports to come to the conclusion that integrity was lacking in our society and the governor justified the birthing of the Integrity Chamber through these conclusions.

Some 7 years on can the governor, there is continuance of office, inform the people of St. Maarten what the effects are of having a not properly functioning Integrity Chamber?

The people will patiently wait and murmur later.

Mr. Editor thanks kindly for the space.

John A. Richardson

The Daily Herald

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