Opinion: A matter of time (before we’ll see another shift in St. Maarten politics)

POSTED: 09/30/14 12:37 AM

Somehow, we already knew this of course but to hear ex-formateur William Marlin confirm it, gives even more food to the thought that Country Sint Maarten will remain politically unstable for the foreseeable future. It is only a matter of time before you see another shift, Marlin said, thereby putting his finger on what many people consider a sore spot.

At the same time, Marlin noted that the democratic system is not the problem. The people who function in the system are. We could not agree more with this assessment, sad as the conclusion may be.

Political instability has a detrimental effect on the country’s investment climate. It also affects everything else – from employment and the protection of the environment, to education and sports facilities.

A government that does not get the opportunity to remain in office for the full term of the parliament simply does not get enough time to implement and execute its governing program. The government that comes in its place is facing the same problem.

Right now, we are faced with a situation whereby we have a governing program, but the team that put it together will not even get the opportunity to govern.

Should we then come up with draconic measures to nail politicians to the party for which they were a candidate in the elections? That thought has crossed many minds, but is it also for many reasons a bad idea. First of all, such a measure is unthinkable because it violates the constitution.

What is the problem? Change the constitution, some would argue. That is even a worse idea. This way we are grasping at straws without understanding the underlying problem.

To understand what is really going on – often behind the scenes in such a way that voters only become aware of it that there is nothing to be done about it anymore – one would have to plow through the 250 pages of the PricewaterhouseCoopers integrity report. That report makes the real causes painfully obvious. We gather that there is no quick fix for it, and maybe there is no fix at all.

St. Maarten is a small community – a small city by European standards – but it has the pretentions of an autonomous country. Everyone knows everyone – a charming thought at times, but too often this is exactly the root of the many integrity breaches the investigators of PricewaterhouseCoopers have brought to light.

Like true consultants they have added a serious disclaimer to their report. They have taken all the information that came their way at face value, so there is no way of knowing whether it is all true, or simply a pack of lies to embarrass poor, hardworking ministers who gave up everything to function as the humble servant of the people. As a fairytale, that would probably fly on the Disney Channel. In the real world, there is nobody who will give a penny for such hogwash.

Why we think that many of the observations in the integrity report hit the nail on the head? That is very simple. If one civil servant complains about the behavior of a minister it could simply be an attempt to badmouth someone because he belongs to the wrong party. If three civil servants do the same thing, mwah.

But when truckloads of civil servants are telling these investigators, independently of each other, similar stories we have a pattern. And we have some serious worrying to do as well.

The stench that arises from the integrity report is overwhelming. It reeks of self-serving actions, of doing favors to friends and family, while those on the outside of these cozy circles find themselves constantly on a highway to hell.

This is why we think William Marlin’s statement that it is only a matter of time before we will see another shift, is true. We have no political parties, we only have fifteen eager beavers calling themselves parliamentarians who are all attempting to make the most out of their seats – for themselves, for their families and for their friends.

In a scenario with a one-seat majority, it only takes one – to quote a popular hurricane-warning – and another disaster hits. The seven MPs currently flying under the green flag of the United People’s party are for the moment possibly unified in their euphoria over getting into government. After all, that is where the cozy jobs are divided and that is where things can be arranged.

But that euphoria is going to fade rapidly the moment one of the seven (eight, if we include coalition partner De Weever) feels that he or she is not getting enough favors. That is when another government will fall, that is when another politician will come up with a vague explanation for switching allegiance that nobody understands. Remember the one where the reproach against the government was something like “a lack of cohesion?”

From this perspective, one may as well accept that instability is here to stay. It is a way of life – maybe one could call it the St. Maarten way. It is also an extremely shortsighted way of doing things. The proof is in the pudding: unemployment remains high, youth unemployment is going through the roof, students fight at our schools, and the distribution of our wealth is so uneven that real trouble cannot be far behind.

Every four years we have elections. And every four years expectations are high: this time everything is going to change – but it never does. You know what it’s like: if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.

 

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