Will Parliament and government allow Dutch takeover of the prison?

Dear Editor,

  On Monday, June 22, 2020, at 7:00am St. Maarten time, Chris van Dam, Member of the Dutch Second Chamber, will be presenting a motion to the Second Chamber in which he is requesting the Dutch Government to establish that the prison system of St. Maarten be taken over completely by the Kingdom Council of Ministers for a period of 5 years at the expense of Country St. Maarten.

  Mr. van Dam sent a copy of this motion to our Members of Parliament with a letter explaining his reasons for submitting it. He ends his letter by writing, “Should you have any questions about the motion then feel free to contact me.”

  As the Coalition in Parliament and the Government seem to be paranoid when it comes to matters concerning Dutch takeover, I would have expected them to have already sounded the alarm and warn the people that “the Dutch are coming”. But instead, there is only silence from Government and from the Coalition. I expected the Chairman of Parliament to call an emergency meeting of Parliament to discuss this matter and the Government to take a position on this issue. As Second Chamber Member van Dam, was so courteous and respectful to inform our Members of Parliament of this pending motion, our Parliament should have replied, post-haste, letting him know whether they agree or disapprove of this motion.

  Greek philosopher Plato said that “silence gives consent.” Should one then conclude that no reaction from our Parliament and our Government means that they are in favor of the complete takeover of our prison by the Kingdom Council of Ministers at St. Maarten’s expense?

  Does St. Maarten have the finances to support such a takeover? Knowing the current precarious liquidity position of St. Maarten, why would the honorable Chris van Dam even dare include in his motion that the takeover would be at the expense of the Government of St. Maarten? Is the Dutch thinking that the expenses of the takeover can be deducted from the liquidity support?

  Besides paying, what other roles and functions would St. Maarten be playing in this Dutch takeover? Would locals serve as counterparts and/or be trained to be able to take over the management when the Dutch expertise leave? These are questions that our Parliament and Government should be asking. If they do not have questions, they should at least take a stand and let it be known to the Dutch prior to the motion being passed.

  I am sure that no one will dispute that our prison system is in shambles as far as management, staffing, building, detention capacity, facilities, resources and in every other way. The Government is still paying the salaries of the three past directors who are at home. The prison system is so bad that in December 2017 the European Court of Human Rights declared the detention of a detainee in a St. Maarten police cell as unlawful. The St. Maarten Progress Committee, that evaluates on a regular basis whether agreements made to improve the prison system are being carried out, has registered very little progress and improvement in our prison system during the past 10 years. The Dutch Kingdom has come under fire by the European Human Rights Council because of our prison system being way below the acceptable human rights standards.

  All of this is known to the current Coalition and Government who blamed, criticized and figuratively crucified the former Minister of Justice, Mr. Cornelius de Weever, for doing nothing about the prison. As Parliamentarians, Silveria Jacobs and Egbert Doran, our current Prime Minister and Minister of VROMI [Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure – Ed.], visited the prison in July 2019 and promised that they would continue to look into the matter of the prison. The current Coalition and Government having had so much criticism about the prison system, one can only expect that they will do whatever is necessary to fix it.

  One thing can be said about Mr. van Dam, who was a former prosecutor, and that is that he has been consistent in his efforts to see the prison system in St. Maarten improved. In October 2019, he presented a similar motion to the Second Chamber which was adopted. Since then he has been asking questions and requesting reports and other documentation concerning the prison system in St. Maarten. When the motion was presented in 2019, State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Mr. Knops was not in favour as, according to him, it restricted the autonomy of St. Maarten. Besides that, he felt that the motion was not opportune at that time, given the political situation of St. Maarten.

  As the Pointe Blanche prison and the police detention cells in Philipsburg do not meet the human rights standards, they put the Kingdom of the Netherlands in a bad light within the European Court. I do not know if this could be the driving force behind Van Dam’s motion to improve the prison system in St. Maarten. But what I do know is, that his efforts will certainly help to raise the standards of our prison system. Our Parliament and Government should take Van Dam’s efforts seriously and do whatever lies in their power to support the various efforts that would lead to a prison system where our buildings, facilities, personnel, management, legislation, etc. meet the European Human Rights standards.

  I ask our Parliament and our Government to let the people know if they are in favor of Van Dam’s motion to enable the Dutch to take over the prison system, at the expense of the Government of St. Maarten, for a period of 5 years.


Wycliffe Smith

Leader of the St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP)