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St. Maarten minister of Justice wants better relations with The Hague

SATURDAY, 29 JUNE 2013

THE HAGUE–Better communication, more cooperation, concrete explanations and finding compromises. These are the tools that St. Maarten’s new Justice Minister Dennis Richardson wants to use to improve relations with the Dutch Government and Parliament.

The perception in The Hague that St. Maarten is a corrupt island where politicians are for sale and integrity is almost non-existent has troubled the relations between the two countries in the last year or so.

St. Maarten’s problematic compliance with the financial supervision law has been a major source of concern in the Kingdom Council of Ministers, as well plans of former Justice Minister Roland Duncan to build a US $100-million Justice Park with a non-transparent financial construction, as a result considered expensive and dubious in The Hague.

The Kingdom Government is also unhappy with St. Maarten’s attitude towards its sister islands St. Eustatius and Saba, now part of The Netherlands. Amidst all these irritations and reservations, the Council of Ministers several times came close to giving Philipsburg a so-called instruction to get things in order. The term “higher supervision” was mentioned various times.

So it is easy to see that the new Justice Minister has a tough job. He must not only continue to build St. Maarten’s justice sector with limited financial and personnel capacity and make sure that crime is properly tackled, but he also has to regain The Hague’s trust. “There is a continuous negative perception of corruption, bad governance and that hurts our image and our economy,” Richardson told The Daily Herald.

That is why, while in The Netherlands this week, Richardson (67) refreshed his contacts with Dutch Ministers Ronald Plasterk (Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations) and Ivo Opstelten (Safety and Justice) and various Members of the First and Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament.

“I have started to warm up the discussion a bit. Why does The Hague have this perception about St. Maarten? What is it based on? And, is it correct?” Communication and especially providing the correct information is essential in the process of restoring relations, said Richardson. “Our way of communicating is a problem. We also don’t communicate enough.”

Richardson intends to discuss the “irritation points” in a “neutral, professional manner” and to get rid of the misconception. The information that the Dutch Government and Parliament receive is often one-sided and unbalanced, that leads to misconceptions and irritations.

Right information

He gave The Hague’s annoyance about St. Maarten’s attitude towards its sister islands as an example. “The Netherlands is of the opinion that we are unnecessarily difficult with some issues pertaining St. Eustatius and Saba. They didn’t have all the right information. Besides, The Hague has to understand that we also have our own interests to consider. Some acknowledgement for St. Maarten’s usually generous attitude towards our sister islands wouldn’t hurt.

“Many of their citizens make use of various St. Maarten facilities, without any extra financial burden compared to the citizens of St. Maarten, such as the airport, harbour, medical, education and commercial facilities.”

The Dutch Government should know that St. Maarten wants to improve the relations and provide good services and facilities to St. Eustatius and Saba. “Since October 10, 2010, we are bordering The Netherlands. We have a role to play and we have to keep working on this,” said Richardson.

The relations between the Windward Islands have always been close. “Medical care, air connections, economic ties, education, all reasons to continue building on that positive approach. Having a first-rate St. Maarten Medical Centre is not only important for the two smaller islands, but for St. Maarten as well. We should try to create win-win situations.”

The minister wants to restore the relations with The Netherlands. “It is after all the largest country in our Kingdom that can help. The relation has to be of an added value. It shouldn’t only be about hissing at each other across the ocean. Aruba has extended a hand to The Netherlands, which has been accepted. We can and we will do the same.”

Regular updates

Richardson is well aware that the Dutch Parliament, as the highest legislative body, plays a vital role in setting the mood in The Hague. For this reason he wants to give Parliament regular updates on the developments in St. Maarten, together with Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague Mathias Voges and his cabinet.

Richardson has an extensive network in The Netherlands and his contact with Dutch politicians and top civil servants is generally good. “There is no tension there,” he said, explaining that he had worked in The Netherlands for quite a while before returning to St. Maarten in 1994 to become Lt. Governor.

His experience as Lt. Governor and his achievements as Project Director in the process of constitutional reform leading up to St. Maarten attaining country status on October 10, 2010, his knowledge of legislation and maintenance of law and order, and the fact that he could start right away and hit the ground running giving the limited time remaining before the next elections made him an ideal candidate to take up the position as Minister of Justice.

Richardson, appointed Member of the Council of State for the Kingdom in May 2011, had just settled down in The Netherlands with his family when he was urgently approached to become Justice Minister.

“There was a lot of pressure from Dutch politicians about corruption, crime and integrity issues, so St. Maarten looked for a professional minister. In my talks with people in The Hague, it became clear that the perception is that things are not well in St. Maarten, financially and in the area of integrity and maintaining of law and order.

Leeway

“We have had it with St. Maarten were some of the reactions; intervention by the Kingdom Government loomed. A new country that is in the process of building up should be given leeway to do so. When you receive an urgent request to help your country at this stage and in such a situation, you should not and cannot excuse yourself,” said Richardson.

Richardson said he enjoyed his time as Member of the Council of State for the Kingdom. The Council of State is highly relevant for St. Maarten as it renders advice on draft legislation. “Important documents pass through that not only touch on Kingdom affairs but Dutch law proposals can also affect the islands.”

One such example is the law proposal of Member of the Second Chamber André Bosman who wants to restrict the admittance of underprivileged and return the criminally inclined people from Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten in The Netherlands.

The Council of State is an important crossing for exchanging information which greatly benefits St. Maarten and the other two overseas countries. “Some law proposals could be useful to St. Maarten.” The fact that the St. Maarten Member of the Council of State for the Kingdom automatically is an extraordinary Member of St. Maarten’s Council of Advice has an added value. “The Council of Advice knows about law proposals at an early stage and can respond timely.” Furthermore, it can be expected that the Kingdom Council of State will have a significant role to play in the coming evaluation of the constitutional changes of 10-10-10.”

Richardson intends to stay on as Justice Minister for one year until the next elections; after all he only accepted the job as a professional minister, one who is not a member of any political party.

Bron: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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