Opinion: Citizens have to become whistleblowers

POSTED: 08/24/11 5:44 PM

Chamber of Commerce President Glen Carty made a remarkable statement yesterday: citizens have to become whistleblowers. While this may sound like an East-bloc tactic to rat out on the neighbors, Carty’s suggestion actually makes sense. We’ll get to that in a bit.
The first question we’d like to examine is this one. How likely is it that citizens will show a willingness to become a whistleblower? To increase that chance, we think that St. Maarteners (not just the indigenous ones, but everybody who calls St. Maarten home) need a different mindset.
Well, we’ve just heard our Chief Prosecutor say something like, if you all want the killing to stop, you’d better start talking to the police. Turns out that many people were present when Amador Jones was shot, and that many people witnessed how Omar Jones subsequently shot at a guy he suspected of murdering his brother – but hey, nobody saw a thing. If you don’t want to tell us what you saw, the Chief Prosecutor muttered, don’t complain to us that we’re not catching the bad guys.
There is a difference between the whistleblowers Carty has in mind and the people who think better of talking to the police. Crime-witnesses are frightened. They think that they’re in line for the next bullet if they open their mouth. That keeps crime nicely going of course.
The whistleblowers Carty wants to activate are every day witnesses to economic crimes: a retailer who does not issue a receipt, a company of whom one knows that it hires illegals, or a bookkeeper who cooks the books.
Carty encourages people to report these irregularities. Anderson Cooper’s program Keeping
Them Honest comes to mind here, and that is exactly what the Chamber-president has in mind.
We know from different sources that tax-compliance in St. Maarten is close to non-existent. Cft-Chairman Hans Weitenberg once put it at 35 percent, meaning that 65 percent of businesses and citizens do not pay their taxes. A survey by the Chamber of Commerce showed a huge discrepancy between registered Crib-numbers and registrations at the Chamber.
At a given moment there were 4,000 companies with a crib-number, while the Chamber had 7,000 companies in its registers. That shows that at least 3,000 companies fly under the radar of the tax inspectorate. The number is almost certainly higher, because not all companies register at the Chamber of Commerce, even though this is obligatory. Not-registering carries a maximum 50,000 guilder fine.
All these freewheeling entrepreneurs who simply ignore the tax office have a serious effect on the companies who do pay their taxes. The honest entrepreneurs simply have to pay more.
A theory popular among politicians is that, if everybody paid his taxes, all of us would pay less. We don’t think that will ever happen, and it is also not necessary. But the effect we should experience once everyone pays taxes is a significant improvement in services. There will simply be more money to do the things that need to be done, like road maintenance, taking care of the environment, promoting the island abroad, fighting crime, and making proper investments in the education system.
From those initiatives, everybody will benefit. With these thoughts in mind, becoming a whistleblower does not seem to be such an East-bloc idea.
Photographers who were present at the Chamber of Commerce’s press conference immediately seized upon the idea when they saw a woman driving her car illegally into the Debrot Road next to the UTS building. Shutter clicked, in as far as electronic cameras still do this, and the offender was caught red-handed. The woman gave a reporter the lamest of all excuses: I had nowhere else to park.
This may not be an economic offense, but it was a nice example of lawlessness that seems to prevail in the mind of many islanders. To change that mindset, whistleblowers could very well be the answer.

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