Opinion: Old hat (Integrity Investigation of St. Maarten Govt by Dutch Kingdom)

POSTED: 10/2/13 12:57 PM

It is a pity that the controversy surrounding the instruction the Kingdom Council of Ministers gave to Governor Holiday had deteriorated into a shouting match wherein terms like neocolonialism, illegal, unconstitutional and paternalistic are just a few of the keywords.

What is this all about? Integrity. Are we working on it? Yes. Are we getting anywhere? No. will we get anywhere? Probably not. Is this unique for St. Maarten? Absolutely not.

The cabinet is calling a foul on Prime Minister Rutte and Kingdom Relations Minister Plasterk for abusing article 43 of the Kingdom Charter. Still, we find in the standing orders for the governor an article that clearly says that the Kingdom government has the option to give instructions to the governor, and that this ought to be done by royal decree. Old hat, those standing orders have been there ever since our paradise under the sun obtained autonomy and it probably existed before that under the Netherlands Antilles.

We have the impression – mind you: the impression, we’re not declaring absolute truth here – that the government is masterfully busy with the creation of huge smoke screens. Why would that be? We have no idea.

The government says that it has no problem with an integrity investigation – nor should it. Transparency International is already coming to town, so what’s the big deal anyway?

The suggestion the government is creating now is that the Kingdom government is meddling in our domestic affairs. Well, yeah, that’s one way of looking at it.

But the role of the governor has always been to function as the local guard dog for the interests of the Kingdom. And when the Kingdom feels affronted by stuff that is going on down here, sooner or later something is bound to happen.

Smoke and mirrors will not mask the reality that integrity leaves a lot to be desired in St. Maarten. It is of course not a unique St. Maarten-issue. The Dutch, the Americans, the Russians, the Chinese and five hundred others also struggle with integrity issues. That’s because people are basically dishonest. Socialists have always gone from the premise that people are basically good, Christians on the other hand take for granted that people are bad, unless you’re holding something over their heads.

Like prostitution – a field of expertise of our former Justice Minister Roland Duncan – integrity issues will never be completely eradicated. There will always be people who put self above country, people who would sell their grandmother for a quick buck. But while we condone prostitution, integrity-issues need to be addressed, if only to prevent that a society becomes completely unhinged.

And, honestly, in spite of the efforts the St. Maarten government claims to have made so far with its integrity program and with its deal with Transparency International, the general feeling prevails that integrity is the most hated stepchild the country harbors.

There are plenty of reasons for that. See this page in yesterday’s edition for details.

What bothers us is that the discussion is again about procedures and not about the issues. And what do we have to fear? We know beforehand what will happen with an integrity investigation that is performed by outsiders, be it Transparency International or an independent entity contracted by the cabinet of the governor.

The investigators will talk to a lot of people, maybe they will study tons of documents – we really have no clue how an integrity investigation goes – but for sure both reports will come with recommendations.

The standard reaction from our politicians – both in the legislative and the executive branch – will be something like this: the “facts” in the reports are based on rumors and hearsay, the investigators are not from here, so what do they know? We don’t need outsiders to investigate our shortcomings. The recommendations will make a few nice headlines in the local newspapers and they will be despised and ridiculed before they are ignored and completely forgotten. With a bit of bad luck the investigators will conclude that they need to investigate further. That’s one way to guarantee job security, but in the meantime it will get us nowhere.

If we have integrity-issues, they are our integrity-issues. Of course we have to deal with them, because if we don’t Joe Average is going to pay the price through higher energy-costs and declining government-services.

But change will have to come from inside, not from the outside. This is why it would be more useful to establish protection for whistleblowers and to encourage people to report integrity-violations – reward them if that’s what it takes. To achieve that, we need definitely a different mindset, and that’s not easy to come by.

It is time for people to stand up against integrity-violations, against greed and corruption by saying: enough is enough. Indeed, we don’t need people from the Netherlands, or South American investigators from Transparency International to explain to us what is wrong and what could be done better. We know all this. These are our problems and we have to solve them at home. Unfortunately, that will only happen when enough people join forces and stand up against the elite that do everything within its power to keep the status quo.

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