Ministers not scheduled to testify in Roorda trial

POSTED: 11/9/11 1:03 AM

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – The court case of Bas Roorda against country St. Maarten takes place this morning staring at nine o’clock at the courthouse in Philipsburg, but the court has not yet scheduled the much anticipated hearing of Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto and Justice Minister Roland Duncan as witnesses.

Roorda, the former head of the finance department, got in hot water after he reported possible criminal activities at the Tourist Bureau last year to the office of the Public Prosecutor. The complaint is against the bureau’s former director Regina Labega, former Tourism Commissioner Frans Richardson, and others. The allegation focuses on irregularities with day-compensation for business trips abroad. Roorda discovered that on several occasions compensation was paid for days when the people who received the money were not traveling at all. The day-compensation is $300.

Roorda was fired on the same day he filed the complaint. He has since returned to the Netherlands.

The government has always denied that it fired Roorda because he filed the complaint. Instead, it accused him of leaking confidential information to the financial supervisor Cft. However, on closer inspection it turned out that the Cft had had this information already for some time and that there was therefore nothing confidential about it.

In court the government contested that Roorda was the liaison with the Cft, but this statement was contradicted by Geert Bergsma, who was at the time the Cft’s secretary. Bergsma now works for the tax inspectorate in St. Maarten. “As the head of the finance department he was a key player in the contacts with the Cft,” Bergsma said in April. “He was the official contact on the civil servant-level we spoke with.”

Former Finance Commissioner Xavier Blackman, who hired Roorda in 2010 as “a financial heavyweight” also, confirms that Roorda was the Cft-contact, Roorda’s attorney Van Sambeek said.

In October, Roorda’s attorneys released court documents in which the former head of the finance department reveals how a row between him and drs. M.J. Hooi, the in the meantime fired audit manager of the government accountant bureau Soab, had disastrous consequences for St. Maarten’s debt relief program.

Roorda describes in the document how a difference of opinion with Hooi led to 27 accountant statements about outstanding debts that all “withheld opinion,” meaning that the accountants declined to guarantee that the debt was genuine. If the Soab had stated instead that it was possible that these debts existed, the Netherlands would have paid these debts.

Soab retaliated after this publication and claimed that the delay was Roorda’s fault.

The attorneys for Roorda will also bring a statement from former Finance Commissioner Xavier Blackman to the attention of the court. In it, Blackman says that the accusations against Roorda are heavily exaggerated. In his statement he severely criticizes Finance Minister Shigemoto, also when he was still Director Resources.

“In general the Director Resources took things in a negative way and personal, he reacted accordingly, and expressed himself regularly in a negative way about colleagues, the government in general and about the Executive Council in particular. He had a very passive insubordinate attitude (for instance by not reacting to correspondence or reacting too late). In his written and face-to-face contacts with colleagues (superiors as well as subordinates) and with members of the Executive Council he often used a negative or a provocative tone. He seldom showed initiative in a positive way, and in general he made a disinterested impression.”

Shigemoto later denied all the charges Blackman brought against him, calling them groundless and baseless: “I have a clean record as a civil servant.  I have an impeccable career working as a public servant for 14 years in the service of the people and counting.”

All this will weigh in on the question whether Roorda’s dismissal was unreasonable. The lawsuit seeks to void the dismissal and to establish that the government gave a phony reason for it.

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