Opinion: Keeping them honest

POSTED: 10/16/11 11:31 PM

That there is a difference between theory and practice is something many people are familiar with. Justice Bob Wit pointed it out during the high councils of state symposium. Wit said that politicians do not like to hear opinion from their civil servants that throw spanners in the works. Politicians want to get things done and if they have to bend a rule or two on the way, so be it. And while Justice Wit proclaimed that politicians ought to be happy with advisors from the non-elected kind, some of these non-elected chosen ones have learned the hard way that it is sometimes better to keep your mouth shut.
Well, Wit would say, that is not entirely true, and we concur. If keeping one’s mouth shut means that the civil servant in question will keep her or his job, but that the price for this is having to live with knowledge about, for instance, a criminal act – what is more important?
We know from the Bas Roorda case that the fired head of the finance department had no doubts about his course of action when he discovered shenanigans with the cookie jar at the Tourist Bureau. He went to the national detective agency to file a complaint, knowing full well that this could put his job in jeopardy.
The last word in the Roorda-case has not been spoken yet and it is in the end up to the court to decide what is what. But the feeling many people got from the events that occurred at the end of March is that Roorda had to go because he did not play the game.
That Roorda is Dutch is a popular argument for some people to claim that the island has to get rid of these “foreigners” (who have the same passport as St. Maarteners, by the way) but in the big scheme of things this is completely irrelevant.
We have to consider the man in his function: head of the finance department. And he discovered that staff members of the Tourist Bureau and the former Tourism Commissioner Frans Richardson took liberties with compensation they received for travels abroad. How punishable that is, is obviously up to the prosecutor’s office to decide, but the head of the finance department felt that he had a legal obligation to file a complaint.
The result was predictable. The whistleblower became the bad guy (good thing he was Dutch, too), and the director of the Tourist Bureau was quickly promoted to the airport.
This, we’d say, is not an example that will inspire other civil servants to become whistleblowers. Roorda has returned to the Netherlands, but local whistleblowers have nowhere to go. That creates an uneven playing field politicians will enjoy.
It has become obvious that our parliament does not exercise its control function properly. At least, we haven’t noticed. That gives cabinet members free reign, and in that situation, they do not need difficult civil servants like Roorda.
Maybe Justice Wit ought to organize a little symposium of his own, this time for an exclusive audience consisting of the members of the cabinet. We have a suggestion for the title of such a symposium: Keeping them honest.

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