Opinion: An uneducated guess

POSTED: 08/10/14 5:35 PM

Our front page story about an ugly power struggle at the Social Economic Council is about more than the uncertainty this has brought to its legal policy advisor Arjen Alberts. It is about the integrity and the unshakable solidity of an institution that was once rock solid under the chairmanship of René Richardson. This is not an institution that will thrive when its Secretary-General spends his time picking fights of which anyone is able to see that there will never be any winners. It is a losers-only game.

And why is this? We could only guess at the true motives behind these unsavory machinations – because that is what they are based on the facts as we know them. A suspension is a serious measure against any employee. The least a worker may expect is a clear and sound reason for it, especially when something like this happens at an institution like the SER.

Alberts never received a written explanation of the so-called complaint against him and a colleague by a civil servant at the department for social development. Why not? If there is really something so bad going on that it justifies a suspension, such an explanation is about the minimum a superior ought to present.

But no, this story went from one amazing pitfall to the next one. First it was about the complaint that never really materialized. Then it was about insubordination, lack of respect – the traditional arguments used by someone who is at a loss for real arguments. Then it was suddenly that the colleagues at the SER did not want to work with Alberts anymore. As the cream on the cake, Secretary General Gerard Richardson came up with the decision that compensation for a doctoral study Alberts is doing no longer applies because of the suspension.

No wonder that Alberts first turned to Prime Minister Wescot-Williams (as Minister of General Affairs responsible for Personnel Affairs) and later to an attorney.

Wescot-Williams is the leader of the Democratic Party. Secretary-General Gerard Richardson is the number 10 on the list of this party for the upcoming elections. Will the party-leader let her fellow-party member down? Not a chance, of course. This is why Wescot-Williams simply did not react to a letter from Albert’s attorney.

How will all this reflect on Gerard Richardson’s standing as a candidate for political office and how will it affect the reputation of the Democratic Party? That is of course up to the electorate to decide, but the affair certainly makes a weird impression.

There is another aspect to this matter: Richardson apparently picked a fight with Alberts over the publication of the SER pension advice. The SER presented this document already in December 2013 to the Prime Minister. She has to publish the advice within six weeks of reception – but guess what? This never happened – at least, not until now.

One could only guess at the motives for withholding such an interesting advice and for the reasons why Richardson picked a fight about this issue as well.

Let’s make an uneducated guess. Half December the SER submitted its (unsolicited) advice, so the government did not ask for it. And just maybe, the government was not waiting for it either – otherwise it would have been published a long time ago.

Yet, the gist of this advice was revealed upon the presentation of the advice. The SER proposes an obligatory pension plan for all employees. Employers and employees together contribute 6 percent to the scheme, but they are free to contribute more. The premiums are deductible from wage and profit tax. An essential aspect is the suggestion that the pension plan travels with the employees when they change jobs. This way most pension transfer-problems would be avoided.

Obligatory pensions will, over time, benefit workers. They will build up a decent company pension to supplement their old-age pension. The problem is that the effects of such a decision will not be felt for years to come – building up a pension goes in small steps, usually 2 percent or a bit more per year.

Politicians with short-term agendas however, might fear that the introduction of such a scheme or even the publication of an advice about it – no matter how much sense it makes – is simply bad news during an election year. On the face of it, it looks like pensions would increase the cost of doing business and take money out of people’s pockets against an uncertain future promise. That this assumption is incorrect does not matter – what counts is the outcome of the elections. They come first, apparently before the wellbeing of employees heading for retirement, before the reputation of the Social Economic Council, and certainly before the fate of one of its employees.

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