Opinion: Equality

POSTED: 11/20/12 1:56 PM

The principle of equality ought to apply to all citizens. That includes those citizens that happen to work for the government (where they are paid by other citizens – at least by the ones paying taxes) and also those who have been put in office by the electorate.

This cannot be said of our Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor Affairs, of course, because he filled the vacancy left by the forced departure of his predecessor, Maria Buncamper-Molanus, on December 23, 2010. We’re not getting into that story – not this time, but let it suffice that the minister sits on a chair normally reserved for people who get there because voters wanted them there.

Of course, such a position comes with perks. Letters to ministers start with the opening remark “Honorable Minister,” But once such letters arrive, ministers are supposed to do the honorable thing, like answering the senders.

That now seems to be a weak point with the Minister of Public Health (for practical purposes we leave the other departments out of this equation).

What happened?

On September 20, exactly two months ago today, the St. Maarten Medical Center sent the minister a letter that contained, basically, five questions. The content of these questions is explained in our front page article (Court sentences De Weever to provide information to hospital) so we won’t get into that here.

The hospital asked its questions based on the national ordinance on public administration (the Landsverordening Openbaarheid van Bestuur). That indicates already that the minister was not ready to give up the requested information freely. In such cases the aforementioned ordinance is supposed to help citizens against the mighty but unwilling government.

The ordinance gives the government – in this case Minister De Weever – three weeks to answer. If there are urgent reasons, a one-time extension of three weeks is permitted, but the minister has to explain this to the party that wrote the letter, in this case the hospital.

Keep in mind that the ministry’s inspectorate has been on the hospital’s case with audit reports and all kinds of demands with very strict deadlines. The hospital always answered within the terms, though, truth be told, it also gave reasons why it would not comply with certain demands.

Against this background it is rather remarkable, not to use other terms, that the ministry simply ignored the letter from the hospital. There was no answer within three weeks, and there was no explanation, nor a motivation why it would take another three weeks. Nothing, nada. These are cases our Ombudsman dreams about every night.

The hospital did not go to the Ombudsman, it went straight to court. Judge  René van Veen looked at the case and arrived at a clear cut conclusion: the ministry has to take a decision about the request by the hospital within three weeks.

The court ruling was published on October 29, and the three-week period given to the Minister to comply with the ruling ends today. Up to yesterday the hospital still had not received a reaction.

You never know, of course, but maybe today an email or a hand delivered letter will arrive with the decision.

That decision will of course be that the minister refuses to provide the requested information, based on some bogus argument based on the exception articles in the ordinance on public administration.

Such a decision will suggest to quite some people, and not alone those working at our hospital, that the minister has something to hide. Among the documents the hospital wants to see is a memorandum of understanding the minister signed with Samuel Hess, the initiator of the American Clinic for medical tourism. The hospital also wants to see the decree that regulates the appointment of its adversary, Inspector-General Earl Best.

We have asked Mr. Hess for a copy of said memorandum quite some time ago as well, but we never received a reaction. We wonder why.

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