Court voids dismissal economist Alberts

POSTED: 09/7/16 10:07 AM

St.maarten – The Social Economic Council (SER) was wrong when it dismissed economist Arjen Alberts per August 1 of last year. The Court in First Instance voided the dismissal decree this week and ruled that the governor has to take a new decision about the administrative objection Alberts filed against his dismissal.

In September of last year, the SER paid a dismissal-compensation of a bit more than 60,000 guilders, after it had stopped paying Alberts’ salary in July. He received reduced pay until January of this year.

Because the court has declared the dismissal void, Albert remains formally on the payroll of the SER. The council will have to pay his full salary and fringe benefits, including arrears.

The Ministry of Public Health, when Cornelius de Weever was its minister, declared in a letter of December 19, 2014, that it no longer wanted to work with Alberts “based on numerous complaints” but the court found that those complaints basically do not exist.`

The decree to dismiss Alberts is based on “shortcomings in communication and awareness of his environment.”

The SER holds against Alberts that he allegedly made statements about the prime minister and the people of St. Maarten in a meeting with a delegation of the ministry of public health, social development and labor that were perceived as “insulting and denigrating.”

The complaint about these allegations snowballed: first the ministry and then the SER-secretariat did not want to work with Alberts anymore. He was first suspended, barred from his work place and then took his story to the media.

The court dove into the heart of the matter: the “insulting and denigrating” remarks and found that the SER had not presented any verbatim account of them.

Alberts and his colleague Bas Peters did write a statement about what went down in the meeting at the ministry. The subject was education levels and pension awareness. Peters said in the meeting that education levels are relevant for a pension system, “because a low education level is associated with a low level of trust in institutions and generally with a low income level. If these two factors are combined, then people are not likely to voluntarily participate in a pension system.”

Policy advisor Angelique Gumbs responded that “the people of St. Maarten understand the idea of a pension.”

Alberts’ contribution to the discussion was limited to a reference to worldwide and Caribbean research showing that people prefer short term over long term financial benefits.

As far as his “insult” at the address of the prime minister, Alberts explained in court that he had said that, “if the prime minister fails to do something he is bound to do by law, he violates the law.” The SER did not provide an alternative explanation.

The court concluded that the alleged statements the SER used to dismiss Alberts were not made by him and that, anyway, these statements had been unjustly experienced as insulting or denigrating.

“That story stuck to the plaintiff and had a negative influence on his work relationships,” the court states in its ruling.

“It would have behooved the defendant to provide clarity by carefully researching in a transparent way and by hearing both sides who said what.” That would have possibly prevented the deterioration of the working relationships, the court noted, adding that there is no evidence that the SER acted this way.

Gerard Richardson, the Secretary-General of the SER gathered information about Alberts from unidentified sources and Secretary Mrs. Choennie-Babel extensively shared her negative experiences with Alberts during an extraordinary board meeting. “All that does not fall under the label of carefulness,” the court ruling states.

Considering all aspects, the court gave Alberts “the benefit of the doubt” and declared that the SER will have to continue paying his salary until there is a decision about his administrative appeal. The court suggested that the governor (who signed the dismissal decree and was therefore the defendant in this case) reconsiders placing Alberts in a different position.

While the SER has put all the blame on Alberts, the court found that there is ‘every reason for the defendant to acknowledge blame and at least to research and motivate why it has drawn these conclusions from the situation. It is still not established that the alleged crisis of confidence is due to actions that can be attributed to Alberts.”

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