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Law adopted on Special Investigative Authorities in St. Maarten

FRIDAY, 16 MARCH 2012

PHILIPSBURG–The Law on Special Investigative Authorities BOB was adopted by Parliament on Thursday afternoon after some fifteen months during which time there were “hearings” with Justice-related groups, Parliament sessions and questions to Justice Minister Roland Duncan.

The adoption of the law was not without controversy. Three Members of Parliament (MPs) had called for the handling to be put on hold for at least a month for “people to be consulted.”

Eight MPs voted for and four voted against the law that gives law enforcement the legal ability to utilise phone-tapping, systematic surveillance and infiltration, among other techniques, to pursue criminals. Three MPs, including National Alliance (NA) MP Hyacinth Richardson, were absent with notice.

Voting for the law were United People’s (UP) party MPs Romain Laville, Gracita Arrindell (President of Parliament), Dr. Ruth Douglass, Silvia Meyers-Olivacce, Jules James and Johan “Janchi” Leonard, Democratic Party (DP) MP Roy Marlin and independent MP Patrick Illidge.

National Alliance (NA) MPs William Marlin, Dr. Lloyd Richardson and George Pantophlet, and independent MP Frans Richardson voted against the law.

Motivating his vote, Lloyd Richardson said while he had concerns about the law, he believed it was a necessary evil. He “begged” for the adoption to be postponed for consultation with the people because he “would like to vote for it.”

MP Pantophlet concurred with Lloyd Richardson, saying that a month or two postponement to meet the people would be more acceptable.

Frans Richardson argued in motivating his vote: “We could have waited. … None of us has anything totally against the law.”

Roy Marlin he was surprised that after 14 months MPs were asking for time to go to the districts when the urgency to pass the law and the need for it to be in place should be well understood. As for abuse, “If we see the law is being abused, we [can] pull it in.”

Illidge reiterated his concerns about abuse of the law, but said it was a tool to combat crime. He decried NA members for being against the law. Earlier in the meeting he had shared a letter sent to him anonymously alleging misuse of access to private information by a telecommunication executive. This underscored his concerns about the law. (A copy of this letter also was sent anonymously to The Daily Herald twice via surface mail.)

After an adjournment for MPs to review the letter Duncan said he would forward it to the Prosecutor’s Office for investigation to determine whether there had been misconduct.

Similarly, MP Laville said it was the NA that had “bombarded” Justice Minister Roland Duncan with questions in Parliament when there was a spike in crime last year. The minister, he continued, had pointed out at that time the need for this law, as did law enforcement officials in their presentations to MPs. Laville said he would have understood the reluctance if the voting on the law came only a month or two after it had been presented, which was not the case.

MP Dr. Douglass called the law a great tool for law enforcement. She said St. Maarten was no longer the friendly island, but “a place where people can take advantage of our weakness. So this [law] was a step” to correct this.

MP Leonard had stated his agreement with the law fervently earlier in the meeting, saying that as a former police officer he could not be against the law. “Why fear if you have nothing doing wrong? … I don’t have a problem … 24 hours tap my phone. … Start with me.”

MP James also believed the law was is “the right thing for the island.”

The passing of the law also means that it can also be put into effect in Aruba and Curaçao. Those countries had already passed the uniformity law and were awaiting the decision of St. Maarten to implement it. The last procedural step is for the law to be signed by Governor Eugene Holiday and Duncan.

The Justice Ministry now will embark on an extensive public information campaign with funds already set aside for this undertaking.

The law also fits into the Financial Action Task Force requirements the country must have in place to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

MP Louie Laveist (NA), a staunch opponent of the law on the ground of possible abuse by law enforcement, was conspicuously absent from the meeting. He sent a notice of absence for the meeting, but no specific reason was given. Laveist showed up in Parliament House a short time after the meeting was closed.

Also absent was another MP with concerns about the legislation: Leroy de Weever (DP). His concerns hinged on the breach of privacy the law would create and the breach when it comes to the Constitution. De Weever’s absence was due to his “taking his wife to the doctor,” according to MP Roy Marlin.

Roy Marlin blasted Laveist and independent MP Frans Richardson who had not yet taken part in the meeting for purposely being absent after voicing opposition to the law in the past months, but not wanting to be present to vote on it. In his determination, this was a political move to claim later that they had no part in the adoption of the law. He excluded De Weever from this observation.

MP William Marlin objected to Roy Marlin’s “bashing” of members who were not present and asked why Arrindell had not stopped it. Her answer was that Parliament was a political body and from time to time MPs would refer to each other.

Frans Richardson subsequently joined the meeting and stated that it was his right to vote, not vote or abstain from voting on the law. He said the fact that “great” United States or The Netherlands wanted it in place did not mean it must be so, especially considering that the law had been with the Netherlands Antilles Parliament for more than 12 years. The law passed on Thursday has had some adjustments made by the Justice Ministers of St. Maarten, Curaçao and Aruba.

Frans Richardson also argued that laws with significant impact on people’s lives should be decided on via referenda.

Justice Minister Roland Duncan, after hearing opinions from MPs, said the law was simply putting law enforcement on par with the methods already accessible and used by criminals. “What are we afraid of [with passing this law]? We hid behind the Constitution. … Privacy is not absolute. … What we are saying here today is ‘if my privacy is invaded we don’t have it?'” He added, “We are a mature and properly-functioning democracy.”

Duncan also answered additional questions posed by MPs on the law, including concerns that the maximum sentence of four years for misuse of the law was too low. He recommended that if Parliament had concerns, they should be put forward in a proposal from MPs.

He said it was regrettable that Frans Richardson did not support the law, adding that MPs were the representatives of the people.

At the start of the meeting MP William Marlin pointed out that it had become a practice for MPs to receive information in two languages. Sometimes, he said, this creates a situation of English and Dutch being “mixed up.” He said while this might “sound frivolous … it does not look good.” He called for Parliamentary committee names, for example, to be used in English for consistency.

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