Opinion: Communication problem

POSTED: 03/17/14 6:40 PM

This week we received a Dutch journalist who writes for a magazine for communication professionals. He asked us whether St. Maarten has a communication problem.

Darn good question. We thought about it (for, like, 15 seconds) and then said that indeed, St. Maarten has a communication problem. We are talking here about the way the government communicates with the community and with the world at large.

Of course we have DCOMM, the Department of Communication. This department is at hand at many occasions large and small and it is always good enough to provide local media with photos and press releases. The prime minister has her own press secretary (Tadzio Bervoets) who supplies the media with a steady flow of reports and pictures about the PM’s activities.

Access to politicians is an up and down affair. We once asked Minister Lake for an interview – which he said he was ready to do – but when the time came, there was always one reason or another why it had to be postponed. We’re still waiting for a phone call, but in the meantime the minister has apparently decided that it is better to communicate through state-controlled press releases.

Other ministers, like Dennis Richardson, Ted Richardson, Cornelius de Weever and also Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, are approachable – be it at events, or via email with questions we may have.

On the level of the Parliament we find a different picture. The president of Parliament gives her press conferences every now and then, and if you get her on the phone she is quite ready to talk and answer questions. Her Secretary General, Jozef Semeleer, though not a politician of course, is a different matter. We have asked Mr. Semeleer by now three times for copies of the advices the Corporate Governance Council has submitted to parliament during the past couple of years. All we have until now is promises, but we have not seen the information we asked for.

And then there are of course the Members of Parliament. Well, what should we say? It is rare that MPs communicate anything to the media. George Pantophlet will send press releases once in a blue moon that never reach this newspaper (our email address is: todayeditoria@yahoo.com), but others remain mostly silent. Even Jules James, who would send press releases in the early stages of his term, has fallen silent.

The silence of MPs is the most deafening when there is a controversy that begs for a reaction. When this newspaper revealed the scandal that resulted in the resignation of former Public Health Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus, the only MP prepared to make a public statement was National Alliance leader William Marlin. The leadership of Buncamper-Molanus’ party (DP) kept its mouth firmly shut.

When we reported last year about former Justice Minister Roland Duncan’s ties to the prostitution industry, there was not a single politician who had anything to say about it. Apparently they were either afraid for their own career, or they thought that Duncan could remain a force in local politics and they did not want to offend him.

Back to that communication problem. The body politic – Government and Parliament – has a tradition of being re-active instead of being pro-active. When politicians in the Netherlands – Bosman, Van Raak – address a certain problem in St. Maarten, it is hard to find anyone on the island who is prepared to look at the issue to determine whether the problem actually exists and if it is maybe a good idea to do something about it.

This is one of the reasons why we are now under the watchful eyes of two committees that investigate integrity issues.

If efforts have been made to put St. Maarten – and able St. Maarteners – on the map in the Netherlands we are not aware of them. And still, that is the way to go. The Van Raaks, the Bosmans and the Lucassens – who constantly depict St. Maarten as either a pirate’s nest or a place crammed with little mafia bosses – need an antidote in the form of stories about successful St. Maarteners in the Netherlands. But those stories do not appear all by themselves, they require an active involvement of the government – possibly via the office of the Minister Plenipotentiary or via the Tourist Bureau. As long as those actions do not materialize, the country will continue to be in a position where it has to react to (sometimes-unjustified) criticism from others.

On the bright side, the country may have a communication problem now, but there are definitely ways to fix it.

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