Opinion: Baseline studyPOSTED: 05/19/14 10:08 PM
The General Audit Chamber’s baseline study into the state of affairs in the field of institutional integrity management gives plenty of food for thought – and that is probably the understatement of the year.
We hear a lot of stories, and we receive reports about workshops, about the government’s integrity program, about all those commendable efforts to kick the civil service into shape. The Audit Chamber’s report however, seems to suggest that the messages from these workshops are massively falling on deaf ears.
Another conclusion could be that fear rules the good people that are in the employ of the civil service. That is of course not how the Audit Chamber put it in its report, but the conclusion is inevitable. The report notes that it is “remarkable” that a lot of questions about integrity it fielded in its survey among secretaries-general and heads of departments came back with “I don’t know.”
One could use such an outcome to argue that these respondents have no idea what is going on in their work environment, but the report hints at another explanation: “possibly out of an abundance of caution.”
It is a creative line, for sure, but behind it we sense that fear for speaking out, rather than ignorance about what is really going on.
Take for instance this question: Has a national decree been issued listing companies, foundations or associations that the competent authority has determined that civil servants cannot participate (in) as supervisory directors, managers, partners, shareholders or members?
An astonishing 67 percent of respondents came up with the “I don’t know” answer. The other 33 percent put on a brave face and flatly answered with a resounding No.
If we want to tackle integrity there cannot be an atmosphere within the civil service that is reigned by fear. Even though the data suggest that two-thirds of the respondents do not know the answer to this question, we are willing to bet our bottom dollar that the other 33 percent gave the correct answer. Such a decree does not exist – and if it is not there, civil servants are free to participate in whatever they like. Bye-bye integrity.
There are other areas of concern, like the fact that almost half of those queried – and mind you, we’re talking about department heads here, not about civil servants at the bottom of the totem pole – said that they were unaware that there is a code of conduct for civil servants.
Also worrying is that, according to the report, hundreds of civil servants have not taken the oath of office – at least, not yet. If we read the report correctly, the last time a civil servant took the oath of office was in 2012.
Many things that are supposed to be happening – but don’t – are covered under a veil of excuses. The one most heard it that of capacity-shortage. With 1,800 civil servants on the government payroll for a country of not even 50,000 inhabitants that is a hard to understand. We are tempted to call that an invalid argument.
Two integrity committees are busy doing their research and writing their reports. The Wit-committee is on schedule to present its findings by the end of next month. One would think that the report by the General Audit Chamber would cause a bit of a firestorm in the political arena ahead of this publication.
The Audit Chamber’s chairman Ronald Halman presented his report to the president of parliament in mid-April. The impression is that not a single Member of Parliament has found the time yet to read the report during the weeks that have passed since that moment, let alone react to it.
Maybe that is typical for the current crop of politicians. We have a report on our hands that shows a lot of shortcomings, and it is not coming from an outsider, it is homemade. In the past, politicians have always deployed an ostrich-mentality when there was trouble on the horizon. It happened with the Maria Buncamper-Molanus lease-land scandal in 2010, it happened again with the Patrick Illidge-scandal that broke in March of last year, it happened with the revelations about former Justice Minister Roland Duncan’s ties with the prostitution sector and it seems to be happening again with this critical yet balanced report.
If this is the way politicians want to deal with integrity-issues then we are all doomed. It is time to get real, and to address the issues that matter most to the people who call St. Maarten their home. We address the most glaring example of failing integrity-rules today in our editorial. That is, of course, about the failure by outgoing ministers to submit a declaration about their assets and business interests at the end of their tenure.
We have a long way to go as a young country, and the Audit Chamber’s report seems to be a good starting point, but everything else will fail, as long as those who are responsible for integrity keep sticking their heads in the sand.