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Transparency International’s St. Maarten study highlights lack of enforcement of laws in practice

Key sectors of society must increase levels of transparency to strengthen people’s ability to hold institutions to account

There is a general gap between law and practice in St. Maarten’s key institutions, the global anti-corruption organisation Transparency International said in a report published today. This is a major obstacle for consolidating the democratic foundation of this new country and weakens its accountability mechanisms. It will limit the success of any future programme promoting good governance and countering corruption, if not addressed.

St. Maarten’s National Integrity System assessment – a study of the anti-corruption efficacy of the island’s principal institutions and actors – was undertaken over the past year and found the public sector and civil society were the weakest links in the island’s ability to fight corruption. In addition, weaknesses in political parties and a lack of transparency in political finance undermine the effectiveness of key institutions.

To increase people’s trust in institutions and public officials, it is necessary to ensure proper integrity procedures do not only exist in the books, but are also implemented and enforced in practice. St. Maarten needs to dedicate further resources and efforts to this with urgency. To enable citizens to hold officials to account when this does not happen, transparency across all sectors of society needs to be enhanced.

“Corruption is not an issue that can be dealt with by a single institution or government agency alone. The government needs to initiate a multi-stakeholder dialogue with all sectors of society, including business and civil society, in order to be effective in curbing corruption”, said Alejandro Salas, Transparency International’s Regional Director for the Americas. “Only by working together can a better future be achieved for all of St. Maarten’s citizens.”

In the public sector, legal provisions concerning transparency are limited, while provisions to ensure accountability are to a large extent in place, yet largely ineffective in practice. Also, the legal framework for public procurement is weak, with opacity around the decision-making process being especially prevalent in regards to state owned companies.

In contrast, the Electoral Management Bodies, the ombudsman and the audit institutions score relatively well in the St. Maarten National Integrity System assessment. The research shows that they are largely independent and have the potential to create an effective system of checks-and-balances, acting as an important defence mechanism against corruption. To be more effective, however, these institutions require increased cooperation from other institutions and sectors they interact with.

The study illustrates broad concerns about some sectors that are vital for promoting integrity and good governance. An example of this are political parties which do not function well in many aspects. In particular, they are not transparent in their internal procedures, lack party programmes or platforms, and are weak in their ability to represent social interests. Effective political competition is limited due to opaque and unequal access to financing and the tendency of “jumping” from one party to another which undermines a stable political environment. In addition, the legislature does not make full use of the oversight instruments at its disposal to hold the executive to account.

Based on the findings of the St. Maarten National Integrity System assessment, Transparency International recommends the following:

  • The government should initiate a process of dialogue with all sectors of civil society and the private sector to raise awareness of the impacts and costs of corruption on St. Maarten, and commit to a roadmap towards greater integrity.
  • Increased resources should be dedicated to the implementation of existing transparency and accountability regulations in the public sector, to ensure their enforcement in practice.
  • Political parties must disclose accurate and timely information on their income and expenditure, including the dates of donations, precise amounts and the names of the donors. Transparency of political party finance is crucial to ensure that oversight institutions and citizens can find out whether politicians are acting in the interests of the public or only of the select few.

Transparency International thanks all people of St. Maarten who have provided input at different stages to the National Integrity System assessment. It is our hope it is seen as a positive contribution to anti-corruption reforms and progress in the country.

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Natalie Baharav
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