What actions will Parliament take when they are being lied to by Ministers?
PHILIPSBURG:--- On Thursday, April 6th 2017, the Minister of VSA Emil Lee told the Parliament of St. Maarten that he did not give the director of SZV Glen Carty permission to spend money from the AOV fund to construct the new hospital, instead he said the decision was taken by the Minister of General Affairs (Prime Minister William Marlin and Minister of Finance Richard Gibson Sr.) a blatant lie told to the members of Parliament. While this is a coalition government, the Minister of VSA chose to blame his coalition's partners for things that fall under his Ministry.
The Director of SZV Glen Carty wrote two letters to Minister Emil Lee, the first was written on July 27th expressing SZV willingness to purchase SMMC, the long lease, and also to construct the New General Hospital. On that letter, a handwritten note indicates that the request was approved by the Council of Ministers at their meeting on August 4th, 2016. The second letter written by Carty was on August 5th, 2016, where he informed the Minister he needs the Minister’s approval to use NAF 144M to create a capital reserve fund for the construction, DBM, consultation and legal costs for the New General Hospital.
On the same day, August 5th, 2016 the Minister responded to Carty’s letter giving the green light to create the capital reserve fund, bear in mind this was not in the letter that was discussed in the Council of Ministers on August 4th. Obviously, the Minister took the decision on his own and authorize the director of USZV to engage half of the AOV fund to build the New General Hospital. By telling the Parliament of St. Maarten that he did not authorize the use of the AOV fund and blaming the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance is a blatant lie to the people of St. Maarten.
Further research shows that through an advice dated September 13th, 2016 which was prepared by the “stafbureau” of the Ministry of VSA. The advice bears the DIV number GOV-16 -006776. That advice was signed by Hensley Plantijn and Joy Arnell. The advice includes several documents such as the business plan, a letter from the Minister of Finance to the CFT informing them how St. Maarten/ Ministry of VSA intends to finance the New General Hospital and the returns it expects from this project.
One day before the advice was submitted Minister Lee sent a letter to Carty on September 12th 2016 to revoke the letter of August 5th where he gave him the authorization to use NAF144M for the capital reserve fund and informed that he is only authorized to use one-third of that amount (NAF50M) because now SZV is no longer constructing the New General Hospital but instead is co-financing the project. This clearly shows that the Minister was aware that the Council of Ministers would not have gone along with his previous plan to deplete the AOV funds but opt to seek external investors for the project.
Another letter that surfaced is a letter sent by the former chairman of the supervisory board Dr. Michel Petit on March 30th, 2016 informing the Minister of the violations in investing the AOV funds and the need to have this regulated by an LBHAM.(ordinance).
SMN News also took specific articles from the SZV ordinance where it clearly states that the Director has to report to the Minister, but all financial decisions is to be taken by him, this can be found in article 18
Article 3 of the said ordinance outlines SZV’s tasks, which clearly exclude real estate and investment in buildings since it is not within the scope of SZV.
Article 22 paragraph 6 states that SZV is authorized after approval from the Minister to create a fund for financing special third party projects within the sector that is related to objectives and goals of SZV. However, paragraph 7 of the said article states that even though the Minister has to determine the amount of the special project fund that amount has to be indicated in the director’s performance contract.
Article 19 stipulates that the performance contract with the director has to be established after the annual budget has been approved. Remarkably this required performance contract which establishes the amount of money allocated to the special project fund was signed on September 22nd, 2016, four days prior to the September 26th parliamentary elections. Another major point that has raised eyebrows, is the signing that took place on September 19th during the evening hours between SMMC, INSO and SZV for the construction of the New General Hospital. Again the mysterious agreement between SMMC and SZV cannot be found since the Minister who praised himself as being transparent and believes in open government cannot produce the agreement to parliament which also was not provided to the court. The Minister told parliament on Thursday that he did not have a copy of that document because he was not a signatory to the agreement even though he was present at the signing while no media were invited to the special event.
Clearly based on the documents SMN News obtained, it is obvious that the Minister violated several articles of the SZV ordinance even when preparing the performance contract for SZV director where it states that the money allocated for the capital reserve for the New General Hospital has to be included when an approved budget of SZV is presented and approved by the Minister. What is even scarier is that the performance contract was signed off on September 22nd, 2016, yet mention is made of the capital investment fund in the letter sent out on September 12th to revoke the letter of August 5th. The Minister had the audacity to end his letter with an instruction to the director telling him that any USZV decision that could have a financial impact on the social funds should meet all laws, internal rules, regulations and investment policies relevant to USZV, while the Minister is the one who gave the director the approval to use the AOV fund to create the capital reserve fund, while there is no legislation in place to invest the money in the AOV fund.
While the letters indicated August 5th, 2016, the Council of Ministers actually took the decision on September 13th, 2016 to use NAF 55M and not NAF144M as was previously authorized by Minister Lee on August 5t 2016.
SMN News research shows that all paperwork was done within a few days prior to the September 26th parliamentary election.
Another document that surfaced during SMN News research is a letter sent by the former chairman of the supervisory board Dr. Michel Petit dated March 30th, 2016 informing Minister Lee of the need to have legislation in place before the AOV fund could be invested. Further, in that letter, it also states that the final contract with respect to the investment in the New Administration Building will need the Minister of VSA approval, hence he is fully aware of what was spent on the New Administration Building. The former chairman referred to the letter Minister Lee sent to the Supervisory Board of Directors of USZV with that instruction.
The former chairman was very clear in his advice to the Minister that the AOV funds cannot be invested unless the Minister put a law in place for such, that law had to be taken to parliament for approval and to the governor for his signature, none of which was done.
The Minister did not follow the advice/warning given to him and went ahead with his plans to invest money from the AOV fund without the proper legislations in place, another significant action that did not take place was to conduct a ‘risk factor analysis to ensure that the AOV fund was not going to be jeopardized by this huge investment, “almost 50% of the fund. This, of course, pushed the former chairman of SZV to resign from his position since he saw that the AOV fund could be depleted which would ultimately hurt pensioners.
SMN News also wrote an article in September 2016 and attached an email that was sent by the SZV legal advisor Jeroen Veen dated December 18th, 2015 to Minister Lee informing him that it was necessary to have the legislation in place before the AOV fund could be invested. Veen in his email went as far as informing the Minister that the legislation has to get the approval of parliament and also must be signed off by the Governor St. Maarten, none of which was done.
The Minister of VSA Emil Lee and SZV Director Glen Carty clearly violated the following laws with regard to the financing of the New General Hospital.
• USZV Director violated Article 20 of the USZV ordinance by not submitting a draft annual budget and draft performance agreement before April 1st, 2015 for the fiscal year 2016 for approval by the Minister. The Minister of VSA also violated article 20 of the USZV ordinance by not approving the 2016 budget by October 1st, 2015.
• Article 22 paragraph 7 of the USZV ordinance by stipulating, signing contracts and spending monies before the performance contract was signed.
• Article 25 AOV ordinance by investing money from the AOV fund without having an LBHAM in place.
This fact-finding concludes that in the rush to have everything in place for the New General Hospital prior to the election the Minister did not adhere both to the law that regulates SZV and AOV its operations. Article 22 of the AOV ordinance stipulates that if the solvency of AOV fund is jeopardized then country St. Maarten has to guarantee payments of AOV without restrictions.
During the Parliament meetings held thus far the Minister is not forthcoming with the answers he was asked to provide.
The documents (letters) that SMN News got hold of and are under this article were all submitted to the Landsrecherche when the former chairman of the Supervisory Board Dr. Michel Petit filed a complaint against the Director of SZV Glen Carty and the Minister of VSA Emil Lee for over-reaching and illegal spending of the AOV fund. Yet the Prosecutor’s Office did not see the need to investigate this case or to protect the AOV fund which belongs to pensioners. The main focus of the Prosecutor’s Office is to lock up known people on St. Maarten and label them with all sorts of crimes which they have to live with for years before they could get their day in court, while white collar crimes or administrative crimes go unnoticed at the expense of the people.
Member of Parliament Franklin Meyers asked the Minister for the names of the resorts and other institutions where water testing was conducted, but instead of turning over that information to Parliament the Minister of VSA chose to tell Parliament that 15% of the places where water was tested came back positive with E-coli and legionella. Will Members of Parliament do their jobs and ensure that Ministers comply with their requests or will they just sit back and relax and allow the Ministers to dictate what they get or know when it comes to the affairs of their country.
Lying to Members of Parliament or denying them information cannot be accepted in a country that is striving to develop its economy and in turn its people. This is Minister that boasts of having integrity at heart, and also believes in transparency and good governance. What is left to be seen if the Members of Parliament will allow Ministers to lie to them and to also deny them vital information?