Opinion: Bureaucracy

POSTED: 10/18/12 12:11 PM

The story about the seemingly doomed government administration building on Pond Island became even more incredible yesterday when Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams revealed that she signed off on an advice for the payment of the so-called completion works a year ago.
These completion works include the installation of separation walls, information and communication technology infrastructure and, outside the building, the construction of a parking lot, not to mention a big cleanup of the mess the contractors left behind.
One year ago. And absolutely nothing happened after the prime minister approved the advice to pay for these jobs.
Our PM off-handedly blamed “the bureaucracy” for this fallacy that cost the tax payer then at least four quarterly lease terms of $481,000 each – a total of $1,924,000. By now the government had paid $9.1 million in lease fees. That may be peanuts in the United States, but for a small country like St. Maarten it is a lot of money.
It is remarkable that politicians apparently have no problem with this situation, because not a single member of parliament has raised the issue, not even after RGM gave a press conference last week announcing yet another court case against the government.
We have the strong feeling that there is something else going on here. A government that cares for its people, a government that struggles to pay out cost of living adjustments, a government that is again looking at a 30 million guilder ($16.8 million – a bit more than the total construction cost of the new building) deficit in its draft 2013 budget, such a government should not be throwing money out of the window this way.
“The bureaucracy” is an amorphous constellation. Using this as the excuse for the fact that nothing happened for a whole year while the money was available (otherwise the PM would not have put her signature on the advice) is in fact accusing all civil servants of something that apparently has to remain unnamed.
Here is our theory.
When civil servants move into the new government administration building, quite some buildings that are now leased by the government will become vacant.
These buildings have owners. And when their building is vacant, they are going to miss the monthly lease fees they so comfortably received from the government – in fact, from the tax payers.
With the economy still struggling, there is no shortage of empty buildings in St. Maarten, so it looks like the owners of these buildings will feel the pain when the white elephant with the green hat becomes operational.
In cases like this, it is always about the money, and the trail here is quite clear. All that remains to be done now is to uncover who the owners of these buildings are. But when this newspaper once informally requested an overview of the buildings the government leases complete with the lease fees and the names of the owners, it immediately became clear that this was a so-called sensitive issue.
We later asked for the same information in a more formal way via email from Finance Minister Tuitt. He let us know that he has been working on gathering this information ever since he took office. Apparently, this is still a work in progress, because we have not heard anything about the fruit of his efforts. That will be an interesting day, if it ever comes.

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