Opinion: Not so public administration

POSTED: 10/2/11 11:57 PM

The National Ombudsman in the Netherlands, Alex Brenninkmeijer, wants to ditch the law on public administration (Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur, or WOB). St. Maarten has its own legislation in this respect, the landsverordening openbaarheid van bestuur, or LOB.

The law gives citizens the right to demand information from their government. So why does Brenninkmeijer want to get rid of that law? In an interview with Nederlands Dagblad he says that minutes from Council of Ministers meetings ought to be made public immediately.

For average decisions, for instance about a dragt law that goes to the Parliament, for about an investment by the government, the Ombudsman supports making those minutes public.

Currently minutes of Council of Ministers meetings are sealed for twenty years. That’s exaggerated, Brenninkmeijer says.

Even harsher is his opinion about the law on public administration. When push comes to shove, he says, the government is leading citizens and journalists into a legal jungle.

That’s a poetic way of saying that in many cases, the government simply refuses to make information public to citizens or journalists. It is true that the law provides the possibility to take the government to court exists, but this is not how the law is supposed to work.

This legal route is taking too much time, and the information that is in the end wrestled from the government’s claws, often comes too late and has by then lost its relevance.

The argument that citizens do not have to know everything is nonsense, Brenninkmeijer says. His point: for the confidence in the constitutional state it is essential that the government actively provides information.

GreenLeft MP Mariko Peters also finds that the government has to be more open and that the WOB needs to be revised. She notes however, that Minister Donner considers citizens and media cumbersome snoopers and that he prefers to keep them at arms lenght.

The idea that the government is entitled some sort of monopoly on information that concerns its citizens is obviously ridiculous. Yet this monopoly exists, not only in the Netherlands, but also in St. Maarten.

Governments even snub their Members of Parliament on a regular basis. A recent report by the Scientific Research and Documentation Center WODC about the integrity of the government in Aruba reveals that the government routrinely leaves more than fifty percent of questions submitted by MPs unanswered. The arrogance of power creates such attitudes.

On February 15, this newspaper sent a letter to the department of general affairs requesting copies of resolution # 129 and #147, both dated February 14, 2008 of the Executive Council on the Island Territory of St. Maarten. These resolutions are linked to a decision by the Exco to grant Maria Buncamper-Molanus and her husband Claudius the right of long lease to a parcel of land onPondIsland, opposite the Melford Hazel sports complex.

Today the calendar reads October 1. No less than 227 days have passed since we wrote our letter. To this day we have not received an answer, so it is fair to say that information is safe with the government but that it does not trust its citizens or the local media with it.

This newspaper had a similar experience when it asked for information about the new government administration building on Pond Island. On June 9, 2009, we asked for the information, and in a letter dated September 2, this was denied. A subsequent letter from this newspaper, asking for different information about the same on project, dated September 9, was never answered.

Rather that entering the legal jungle, Brenninkmeijer refers to, we prefer to hammer remind our government every now and then of its shortcomings and share these thoughts with our readers.

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