Integrity Chamber: burden or opportunity?

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Nilda Arduin Ombudsman St Maarten

 

Philipsburg; On January 29th the period provided to the Ombudsman by the Constitution to possibly present the new National Ordinance Integrity Chamber, ratified on 18 December 2017, to the Constitutional Court for review, expires.

After all that have been said and done pertaining to the Integrity Chamber, and certainly not the least by the Ombudsman of Sint Maarten Dr. Nilda Arduin, the new National Ordinance Integrity Chamber ratified on 18 December 2017 will take effect not at the lapse of the date stated above, but on a date yet to be established by National Decree. This in order to provide for proper coordination of the preparatory activities before the law actually takes effect.

Though ahead of the expiration date for action, the Ombudsman finds no reason to address the Constitutional Court for review of the new law. Special attention is however required in the preparatory phase for the protocol to be signed between the Integrity Chamber and the Public Prosecution, as well as the protocol to be signed with the Ministry of General Affairs as stated in the law. There should be absolute clarity and transparency upfront pertaining to procedures to be followed, and how information acquired by the Integrity Chamber is handled regarding misconduct falling under the category of a ‘criminal charge’. But also regarding acts (misconduct) for which disciplinary actions are provided for by the National Ordinance substantive civil servants law (‘Landsverordening Materieel Ambtenaren recht/LMA’).

Having established that the concerns presented to the Constitutional Court, which lead to the first Ordinance on the Integrity Chamber being squashed, and the contours offered by the Court for consideration by government in drafting a new law were adequately addressed in the ratified law, the Ombudsman considers the rights of the people sufficiently protected by the law.

Considering the history preceding the ratification of the new law, the Ombudsman placed the concerns alleging that this new institution is yet another burden on the people of Sint Maarten against the considerations presented in the explanation on the law (‘Memorie van Toelichting/MvT’). Dr. Arduin concludes it to be a matter whether one considers the glass half full or half empty, and resolves to emphasize the opportunities provided by the law rather than the alleged burdens.

Integrity is a human characteristic not easily defined by law. Hence the choice of the legislator to refer to ‘suspicion of misconduct’ (‘misstand’) within the public sector rather than ‘integrity breaches’ (‘integriteitsschendingen’). In addition to its task to advise government regarding integrity matters, the Integrity Chamber is also explicitly charged with the task to engage in continuous awareness campaigns among the public. The MvT refers to the slogan ‘Integrity starts with me’; this is vital for the success of the newly to be formed institution. The cooperation of the public to report and assist in the investigation of suspicions of misconduct is needed. However, the task to systematically inform the public and widely promote integrity both in the public and private sector of the community provides opportunities for the public in general to recognize and deal with some pressing ills within the society as (a result of) integrity breaches. Awareness campaigns provide the opportunity to address issues, such as but certainly not limited to crime, which seriously undermine the stability and safety within our society.

Considering that the new law adequately provides for the protection of the rights of the people, Dr. Arduin opts in favor of the opportunities the Integrity Chamber can provide the community of Sint Maarten.

(NOTE: The changes as a result of the arguments presented to the Constitutional Court and subsequent contours for a new law offered in the verdict dated 7 July 2016 will be outlined in a subsequent press release.)