Emmanuel: Integrity Chamber is a completely useless entity

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~ Chamber declines to give opinion on Ballast Nedam ~

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Independent Member of Parliament Christophe Emmanuel on Monday said the Integrity Chamber has verified that his initial impression of the entity was exactly on point: a completely useless construction that does not serve the best interest of St. Maarten, only those that forced it upon the country. “The double standards are evident,” the MP said.

The MP’s comment came after he received the response from the Chamber to his request for the Chamber’s opinion on Ballast Nedam being awarded the contract for the reconstruction of the airport.

He specifically requested an opinion considering Ballast Nedam’s criminal history of bribing governments and other officials and since it is becoming the norm for the government of St. Maarten to engage companies for million dollar contracts on St. Maarten without considering their history. “This cannot be what we mean by good corporate governance and it should not become acceptable,” the MP said.

The Chamber responded to the MP on August 13 stating in part: “With regard to your request, the Integrity Chamber regrets to inform you that rendering an opinion does not fall within the scope of its assigned tasks. However, the Integrity Chamber can be asked to provide an advice or proposal in accordance with Article 16, third paragraph, of the National Ordinance Integrity Chamber. This request can be made by the Prime Minister, the responsible Minister, or Parliament (as a body, not individual members).”

MP Emmanuel has taken issue with the fact that he as a Member of Parliament, the highest body in the country, even above the Council of Ministers, cannot request of entities established by Parliament (though forced and blackmailed to do so) for a simple opinion or advice.

Upon getting the reply from the Chamber, the MP sought clarification if by “Parliament” it meant that it will accept a request to the Chamber from the President of Parliament on behalf of all 15 members of Parliament or will a request to the Chamber from the President of Parliament on behalf of a Member of Parliament suffice. The Chamber responded that the former is required.

“But the Integrity Chamber would prefer to hide behind the law, sit back and condone clear breaches of integrity. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, but my initial feelings about this entity were correct. It is useless. This is an entity that carries a general cost of over Naf 1 million on the country’s budget. What do our people get for that? An entity that accepts clear integrity violations and hides and says well we were not asked, so we won’t do anything,” the MP said.

The MP noted that citizens of St. Maarten when being appointed as Ministers or management of boards and government companies must go through rigorous screening of their present status and activities as well as their past. He said these persons are eliminated from consideration and denied the opportunity to serve their country based on the most minor details from their past, sometimes going back decades.

As a result, along with baseless allegations by the Dutch, St. Maarten became a punching bag on integrity matters, forced to establish an entity after the country was devastated by hurricane Irma. “Today, that same entity knows that Ballast Nedam has a criminal history, knows that Windward Roads has a criminal history, but refuses to give a simple opinion, solicited or unsolicited, on how government engaging with these two companies flies in the face of the tenets of integrity and proper, integer governing,” he said.

He reminded the public that the Chamber thus far only saw it fit to render advices on government’s gift giving policy and a code of conduct for civil servants. “But for something as major as who is involved in the airport reconstruction, they have no voice. This flies in the face of the very arguments the Dutch government used to impose the Chamber on St. Maarten. Dutch MP’s dragged St. Maarten through the mud for turning a blind eye to integrity issues and corruption. They stated that St. Maarten needed an entity to tackle these issues when they are obvious ad apparent,” the MP said.

“Nobody, not even my critics, can deny what is factual about a company such as Ballast Nedam. A company filled with integrity violations and a criminal settlement was awarded the contract to reconstruct the airport. According to the Dutch, this is obvious and apparent. But here we have their entity doing the same thing they accused multiple governments of St. Maarten of doing, turning a blind eye to corruption,” he stressed.
Emmanuel said the fact that Ballast Nedam secured the airport contract at a time when the Dutch government and the Schiphol Group, supported by the local government places significant focus on good corporate governance is very noteworthy and in contradiction to the World Bank’s anti-corruption guidelines and sanctions framework.

These guidelines were outlined in the tender documents for the airport project as a letter of acceptance by all bidding companies. In part, the guidelines focuses on fraud and corruption which the World Bank breaks down as corrupt, fraudulent, collusive, coercive and obstructive practices. Breach of these guidelines could include a public declaration of ineligibility to be awarded or otherwise benefit from a bank-financed project.

The MP concluded that he will be looking at amending of the National Ordinance Integrity Chamber.