PHILIPSBURG:--- Last week, yet another annual report was added to the long list of reports that Parliament has in its possession. The General Audit Chamber, one of the High Councils of State, submitted for the seventh time, its annual report in both the Dutch and English languages. Hence, Members of Parliament, who are not versed in the Dutch language have no excuse about not being able to read or understand the Chamber’s annual report. I would like to commend the Chamber for producing a very good report. It’s critical, yet objective and minces no words as it lets the governor and parliament know what is going on in government as far as the areas of responsibility of the Chamber are concerned. Since the annual report is a public document, the Chamber may want to consider a more friendly layout.
If Parliament is serious about executing its supervisory task then the Chamber has supplied Members of Parliament again with an excellent instrument to do such. Unfortunately, the previous annual reports have been blatantly ignored by parliament. SMCP truly hopes that Parliament will do something about this report. Our government and even our parliament have grave objections to the establishment of an Integrity Chamber because they believe that integrity assessments can be carried out by our High Councils of State. Yet all the annual reports of the High Councils of State thus far have been totally ignored which is an indication of great disrespect for the Councils as institutions as well as for the research and hard work carried out by the personnel of these Councils.
In the 2016 annual report, the Chamber points out many instances where the government and specifically ministers have failed to do their jobs. The report states that when government is made aware of weaknesses and deficiencies in the organization and even draft plans to deal with these, “the implementation is found wanting”. The Chamber also reports that several ministers and ministries did not cooperate in providing the requested information, which impacted the audits that were carried out in 2016. The Chamber even wonders if lack of cooperation and failure to provide information are “becoming the standard practice in government”. If ministers and ministries are unable or unwilling to provide information to the General Audit Chamber which has the legal authority to request such, can you imagine the refusal and resistance that the High Councils of State will encounter if they are charged with integrity investigations?
The Chamber also pointed out serious shortcomings in the way government manages its finances. Government spent money that was not available, particularly in the area of hiring personnel. This was pointed out in the previous annual reports as well but has been totally ignored by government. In addition, appointments by government-owned companies lack all form of transparency. Furthermore, according to the National Ordinance Promotion of integrity of ministers, the government must seek the advice of the General Audit Chamber when appointing new ministers. It appears that for the screening of all of the ministers in the current cabinet no advice from the Chamber was sought.
During 2016, the Ministries of Justice, Finance, and General Affairs were guilty of not cooperating and not providing the requested information to the General Audit Chamber. Even though the ministers charged with these ministries were notified of such the Chamber never received any reaction to their notification.
The above are just some of the problems listed in the General Audit Chamber’s 2016 Annual Report concerning the functioning of government. Since the reports of the High Councils of State are meant to help Parliament carry out its supervisory task, the report at hand contains enough material to enable parliament to call out government and ministers on a number issues such as: a lack of transparency regarding appointments, hiring personnel when there is no money allocated for such, the inability to present a solid and auditable financial statement, providing proper insight about how public funds are used, etc. Parliament, there is a lot of work to be done!
I must say something here about the blatant disrespect on the part of parliament for the General Audit Chamber. During 2016, a delegation of the Dutch Parliament and a delegation from the Dutch Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Affairs visited the General Audit Chamber. Yet our own parliament did not see the need to even meet with the Chamber to discuss its 2015 annual report.
Unfortunately, our parliament also shows a similar disregard for the other High Councils of State as well. The Advisory Council, as well as the Ombudsman, have, over the years, diligently submitted their annual reports but Parliament has yet to discuss these and additional interim reports in a Central Committee and follow up on these reports by calling government and ministers to parliament to give an account for the problems and failures listed in these reports. To date, Parliament has received sixteen annual reports from the three High Councils of State but they have never yet been discussed in Parliament. How or when does Parliament plan to tackle all of these reports?
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party