Opinion: Bas Roorda vs Country St. Maarten

POSTED: 12/20/11 5:07 PM

The Court in First Instance created clarity on several fronts with its ruling in the case Bas Roorda vs country St. Maarten. The most important lesson is this: as a whistleblower you always end up with the short straw. That is obviously predictable, and we dare say that this will not be a reason for true whistleblowers to keep their mouth shut in the future; it will just prevent copycats.
The court has ruled that Roorda’s dismissal per May 1 of this year was unreasonable. That is a small victory for the former head of the finance department; it comes with a 25,000 guilders award in damages, but it is unclear when or if the government will ever pay this money.
More important is however that the court established the position of civil servants towards third parties.
Roorda was the designated contact for St. Maarten with the financial supervisor Cft. Roorda said this was so, former Finance Com missioner Xavier Blackman confirmed this in a written statement, and the former Cft-secretary Geert Bergsma also confirmed this – not in writing, but in a statement he made in the past to this newspaper. Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto is the only one who denies that this was so. The court ruled that there is no written proof that Roorda was the Cft-contact. And guess what: the court rules based on what is in the case file, not on what is in the newspapers.
Even if Shigemoto had acknowledged that Roorda was indeed the Cft-contact, then this still did not give him absolute freedom to share whatever information he had with the financial supervisor without the permission or the instructions of his superiors – in Roorda’s case the Finance Minister and Secretary General Sherry Hazel.
Why? Because, the court ruled, the country is obliged to provide the Cft with all necessary information. Random civil servants or contract laborers do not have this obligation. They are not subordinate to the Cft; they are subordinate to their own superiors.
We know in the meantime from a report from the same financial supervisor that the government apparatus in St. Maarten is not fond of people or organizations looking over its shoulder. The compiler of the annual accounts, according to the Cft-semi-annual report, was refused access to information at the Receiver’s Office repeatedly and therefore, certain information the Cft needed to assess the islands financial performance simply did not become available.
All this is, according to the court, no excuse for civil servants to go on their own to third parties like the Cft with such information.
Roorda has in the court procedures argued that the contested information about back-service obligations in APNA pensions was no secret to the Cft but the court did not take this argument into consideration.
We also learn from the court ruling that the finance minister indeed has the authority to fire people based on the Accountability ordinance. This point was also heavily contested by Roorda’s attorneys, but to no avail.
What remains after the Roorda affair is obviously the criminal investigation at the Tourist Bureau. When Roorda filed his complaints about embezzlement of travel-compensation funds, the case seemed simple and straightforward. The director of the Tourist Bureau, Regina Labega, and former Tourism Commissioner Frans Richardson are mentioned in the complaint. But look what has happened since Roorda went to the prosecutor’s office.
Roorda was fired on the day he filed the complaint, Labega was appointed director at the airport, Richardson sits in parliament, and the investigation into this straightforward embezzlement scheme seems to be stuck at the prosecutor’s office because certain “witnesses” are not available – even though they are on the island.
Something smells bad out there, and it is about time to clean house.

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