Ombudsman ducks question about uncaring civil servants

POSTED: 09/18/15 12:50 PM



St. Maarten – “There is a group of civil servants that feels that the LMA protects them and that it is difficult to dismiss them. Is that part of the problem? Is there a sentiment that some civil servants just don’t care and that they don’t have to follow recommendations?” with that remark, independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo, who worked as a civil servant at the census office, seemed to give a spark to a meeting of parliament where Ombudsman Dr. Nilda Arduin presented het 2014 annual report.

The fireworks did however not materialize, because the Ombudsman came up with a pacifying response. “Civil servants are very willing to learn and to do their jobs right if they see that their work is taken seriously.”

The LMA is the national ordinance that regulates the rights and duties of civil servants. The ordinance does contain rules that deal with dereliction of duty, but they are seldom, if ever, applied.

The Ombudsman annual report was already available in July, and this newspaper reported about it on July 23.

“Propriety was a word unknown to civil servants when I started my tenure in 2010,” the Ombudsman told the parliament yesterday.  “This indicated to me that proper conduct was not applied. And we realize that we still have a long way to go.”

Understanding propriety is an issue, the ombudsman added later on. “Minsters and secretaries-general have to lead by example. “If they let civil servants know that there could be consequences, it would help.”

Reacting to the fact that government followed up on 43 percent of the recommendations the Ombudsman made in 2014, MP William Marlin wanted to know what happened to the 0ther 57 percent. Marlin also asked whether the Ombudsman follows up when the government takes no action on a recommendation.

“By law, the minister has the final authority,” Arduin said. “He is obliged to follow a recommendation, unless it is not possible to do so. In that case, the minister will have to motivate his decision.”

Some of the recommendations have not been (completely) implemented because they are about long-term issues like the development of policies or regulations.
“We cannot force the government to take a certain decision,” Arduin said. “So sometimes people have to go to court and it happens that they then use reports from the Ombudsman to make their case.”

Arduin furthermore noted that “not having a consumer protection agency makes people end up at the office of the Ombudsman.”

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