Opinion: Good governance

POSTED: 02/20/12 12:59 PM

The Corporate Governance Council is a thorn in the side of Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger. For all DP-parliamentarian Leroy de Weever is concerned, the council could evaporate tomorrow and he would not lose a night sleep over it.

Politicians somehow seem to think they have the God-given right to take decisions, even when those decisions go against the interests of the people they are supposed to represent. But when things go wrong, politicians usually quietly disappear from the scene, to be replaced by others making the same claims to divine decision-making status.

In St. Maarten that disappearance act is not too likely, because the pool of candidates for political office is limited due to our community’s scale. In other words, the faces that are so familiar to us all are there to stay – with Maria Buncamper-Molanus being the exception that confirms the rule.

The aversion against the Corporate Governance Council is understandable (but not excusable): there is a lot of money at government-owned companies like the Harbor Group of Companies, TelEm and GEBE. What happens with this money is until now kept successfully beyond democratic control. At the same time they are the vehicles for pet projects like the causeway over the Simpson Bay lagoon and the projected Dutch Village at the port.

But the money that these companies have is in a way the people’s money. And therefore the people, via their elected representatives, are entitled to a say in what happens with that money. Logically, the government-owned companies ought to open their books, just like the government does (with some effort) in its annual budget and with its annual accounts.

We know that the general audit chamber has never approved an annual account of the country’s predecessor, the Island territory of St. Maarten. So if something is already structurally wrong with those accounts that are subject to democratic control, how bad will things be at these government-owned companies that operate in a democratic vacuum?

It goes a bit far to make all kinds of assumptions, but we think it is more than justified to demand that government-owned companies provide proper and timely information to the community about their financial situation and about their operations. That information cannot be sensitive, simply because they all have a monopoly, with the exception of course of TelEm. Ironically, the government also has a stake in its competitor UTS – so what’s the problem?

To get a handle on what bad corporate governance – and bad governance, period – does to a country one only has to look at the situation in Greece and Italy. Greece is on the verge of bankruptcy after decades of corruption and ostrich-policies, and Italy seems to become the new European King of Graft. The country that intends to send its former prime minister Sylvio Berlusconi to jail for five years (though we hear he’ll never get there) sees every year €60 billion (almost $79 billion) go up in smoke through corruption.

That money disappears in people’s pockets of course, but the country won’t benefit, like Greece will find out if it will really be declared bankrupt. In that situation, the country won’t pay its creditors anymore and critical supplies like medication will only become available if the Greeks show the cash. In other words:  there will be scarcity on many different levels, and the people will bear the brunt of it.

How the Greek people will react when the proverbial you-know-what really hits the fan is anybody’s guess. But it won’t be pretty. The Greek example ought to be a stern warning to all those local politicians who think that good governance-rules hinder their work. Really, they ought to know better.

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