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St. Maarten Ombudsman says more interaction necessary between government and citizens


~ Updates Parliament on 2012 activities ~

PHILIPSBURG–Ombudsman Nilda Arduin-Lynch on Tuesday called for “proper” interaction between government and citizens.

She was at the time updating Members of Parliament (MPs) on the activities her office engaged in over the past calendar year during a meeting of the Central Committee of Parliament. The activities are included in the Ombudsman 2012 report.

Arduin-Lynch said though St. Maarten is operating close to three years as a country within the Dutch Kingdom, she recognises that the country’s new constitutional status remains in its infancy.

She said although the principles of good governance are in general covered by the Constitution and the laws, making the principles a reality, visible and a fact of the daily life of residents, require more than only the law. It requires proper interaction between the government and citizens. “The interaction between the principles of good governance and the norms of society has proven to be an important element in our investigations over the past year,” she said.

“The interaction between the prevalent norms within the society as a result of social circumstances such as financial dependency on government, individual interest above the general interest, family ties and friendships in a small society versus political power, which on the one hand can be used to favour, alienate, misuse and create political patronage, but at the same time is very much dependent on the support of the electorate, should not be underestimated in the plight to promote good governance in small societies as ours.”

She said achieving the ultimate goal of propriety being the standard conduct of government bodies and agencies in dealing with citizens requires the willingness of all to assume their assigned roles and responsibilities. “As such laying the stone block by block on a solid foundation established in the previous year has been the focus of the Ombudsman in the year 2012. The 2012 Year Report pays ample attention to case handling,” she said.

The Ombudsman had stopped accepting new complaints for handling in June 2011. This was resumed in April 2012 after having receiving a protected digital registration system.

From April-December 2012, 70 new complaints were filed and 20 complaint investigations were closed. Apart from official complaints filed in the period April-December 2012, 106 advices were given to citizens seeking information regarding issues that affect them.

She said the standards of proper conduct most violated by the investigated administrative bodies are: active and adequate information provision, promptness, legal certainty, and adequate organisation of services.

In an effort to strengthen its capacity to handle complaints more effectively and efficiently, the office recruited two lawyers: a Complaint Officer and a Legal advisor. Both got practical training at the National Ombudsman in The Hague and the Ombudsman in Amsterdam.

A senior team leader from The Hague was also hired for six months to train staffers and assist the Bureau with hands-on advice in St. Maarten.

The Bureau also held two meetings with the Council of Ministers to discuss the main findings as a result of complaints filed in 2011-2012, and the role of the Ministers with regard to ongoing investigations conducted by Bureau Ombudsman.

Arduin-Lynch said three basic targets were set to improve Government’s operations and the service to the public. These were for all departments to implement procedures to acknowledge receipt of, and handle requests from citizens within a reasonable time. It was further for Government to establish fixed terms to keep track of documents between Ministries and Departments in order to meet the terms for decision making provided by law in cases such as requests for building permits, medical and financial aid. The third target was for all committees and advisory bodies required by law be appointed by December 31, 2012.

The Ombudsman also met with the Secretary General, the Department and Sector heads of each Ministry. Valuable information regarding procedures and policies within the Ministries, as well as their experience with the investigative procedures of the Ombudsman were shared.

From August through December 2012 information sessions were held in nine districts in collaboration with the Boards of the Community Councils and/or the directorate of Community Centres. There were also several work-related trips for symposiums and other work related issues.

On May 25, 2012 Parliament approved amendments to the Criminal Code, the draft Ordinance was prepared by the former Netherlands Antilles. From May to August 2012 the Ombudsman received many emails from citizens protesting the approval by Parliament of a clause in the amended Penal Code, exempting organisers of animal fights as a cultural or structural event with a licence from criminal prosecution. In response, the Ombudsman sent out a press release to explain the role of the Ombudsman, and the procedures regarding the Constitutional Court as provided for by the Constitution. While approved by Parliament, the pertinent law first had to be ratified by Government before the Ombudsman could take any action. The Ombudsman has since presented some articles of the new Penal Code to the Constitutional Court for review.

Arduin-Lynch said the main achievements of the Ombudsman and the Bureau in 20l2 include the introduction of a digital Complaint Registration tool (KRS); full staffing of the Bureau in accordance with the formation plan approved by Parliament; establishing of the Standards of Proper Conduct regarding propriety; awareness created within the community regarding the Ombudsman and the Bureau and the election of the Ombudsman of St. Maarten as a Regional Director on the IOl Board.

Bron: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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