“The official whistleblowers of the state”

POSTED: 10/16/11 11:45 PM

Judge Bob Wit underlines importance Ombudsman, Audit Chamber and Advisory Council

St. Maarten – “The Ombudsman and the General Audit Chamber have extensive powers to do investigations. You are the official whistleblowers of the state. Your findings may be embarrassing or inconvenient but they will be published. And when politicians do not follow your recommendations, the case will go to the court of public opinion and then politicians will have to go through the motions of blame and shame.”
Justice Bob Wit, the President of St. Maarten’s Constitutional Court left no room for misunderstanding about the importance of the country’s high councils of state – the Advisory Council, the General Audit Chamber and the Ombudsman. He was one of the keynote speakers at a well-attended symposium the three councils organized yesterday morning at the Westin in Dawn Beach.
Constitutional law consultant and director of the foundation for civic education Dr. Samuel Polanen put the checks and balances that become a constitutional democracy in perspective with a historic review that started with the feudal times when muscles and swords ruled, through the emergence of Christianity to the American declaration of Independence and the current American system.
Justice Wit’s presentation was a lot closer to the present day reality, as he pointed out that “what is good for America, or what is good for the Netherlands, is not necessarily good for St. Maarten. Democracy does not mean that the majority is always right. We have a separation of powers and the high councils of state have for a long time been considered as assistants to the legislative and executive powers. That is not completely right.”
Wit said that it were “very good for politicians to realize that all parties that are in government today, will one day be in the opposition.” To the amusement of his audience, Wit added, “This is a general remark.”
But his advice to politicians was, all the same, to consider how they would look at certain legislation if they were in a different position. Governing parties ought to consider how they would deal with legislation they propose from the opposition’s point of view, while opposition parties ought to judge them also from the opposite side. “How would you feel about it if you were in government instead of in the opposition?”
Wit noted that 10-10-10 marks a beginning of a long and lasting process. “A lot has been done, and a lot still has to be done. But we are all in this together. We must realize that political opponents are just that: opponents. They are not enemies.”
Wit added a veiled remark that suggested he seems to think that politicians in Curacao (to which he lightly referred as “that other island”) do not quite grasp this concept. “Politicians also have to realize that they are elected by the people, but that this does not make them more important than the non-elected. That is wrong.”
On the contrary, Wit argued. “The best thing that could happen to politicians is to have non-elected advisors. Politicians want to get things done and they don’t want to hear advice that makes what they want impossible; and it takes courageous civil servants to say: this is not possible. On the other hand, there are also civil servants who like to say that something is not possible. If they do that, I say, they ought to explore what is possible.”
Wit pointed out that politicians don’t have to follow the advice from high councils of state. “But they need to respect it and go into the reasoning.”
Judge wit made clear that the government is obliged to ask the Advisory Council for advice about proposed legislation. “If no advice is asked then it is quite clear that the correct procedure has not been followed. In such a case the Ombudsman can approach the Constitutional Court, and this court has the authority to void the legislation.”
Wit concluded that the high councils of state offer “a necessary counter balance to all the considerations politicians have to deal with.”
Towards the end of the symposium, Clarence Richardson, a retired unionist turned labor and management consultant, asked representatives of the three councils to rate the recognition they had experienced from the government during their first year on a scale from one to five.
But Ombudsman Arduin, Audit Chamber chair Tuitt and Advisory Council vice chair Brooks-Salmon all evaded the answer. Tuitt said that he would grade the recognition level after the Audit Chamber had submitted its first report to the government. Ombudsman Arduin agreed, saying that St. Maarten is “starting at zero” and that “everybody has to get used to the new institutions.” She said she’d leave the requested grading until after her second year in office. Brooks-Salmon followed suit: “I am not going to grade either, but I can say that so far the advices we have given have been followed.”
The parting shot came from Judge Bob Wit: “These high councils of state will keep the level of governance high. That is necessary if we look at that other island.”

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