Opinion: Serious recommendations

POSTED: 12/20/13 12:13 PM

The government-appointed Public Administration Integrity Committee made a good move yesterday by explaining itself at a press conference. The information chairman Justice Bob Wit provided gave context and direction to the work that lays ahead, and to what we may expect of all this. This does not mean anyone ought to feel obliged to glorify the results before they are in – not at all.

But the members on this committee are serious professionals with a profound knowledge of the region, of St. Maarten and of the issues at hand. The committee also does not strike us as a gathering of people who will let themselves be pushed around by anyone – so in a way, this is exactly what the doctor ordered.

That the committee has hooked up with the steering committee the governor has established to guide the investigation the Kingdom Council of Ministers has ordered seems to be a practical approach that does not have to stand in the way of the independence of both investigations.

What is rather tantalizing – and almost too good to be true – is that the committee’s final report will be delivered to the council of Ministers in June, and that this council has committed itself to make the contents public within a month afterwards.

This means that the committee’s findings will become public knowledge before the elections. If the truth hurts, Chairman Bob Wit noted, than let it be so. The elections are of no concern to the committee and besides, the investigation will not take the format of a witch-hunt for individuals – politicians or otherwise.

There is of course one catch. The committee will separate facts from fiction and then present its finding and its recommendations. After all, the point of the exercise is to find weaknesses in the way we do things and to come up with ideas about how to do those things better. But the true repair work will have to be done by the public administration that is the subject of the investigation – ultimately, by the parliament.

We are not suggesting that all corruption in the public administration has to do with politicians – it could as well be civil servants, employees of government-owned companies, the media or anybody else that comes in the crosshairs of this investigation.

Justice Wit made a valid point when he said that the time has come to look at ourselves in this context. When there are no takers, corruption does not occur – a point Transparency International representative Alma Rocio Balcazar also made in June when she addressed integrity at the annual general meeting of the Hospitality and trade association SHTA.

It takes two to tango: “for a government to be corrupt there must be a counterpart in the private sector,” Rocio Balcazar said, adding that the private sector has a shared responsibility in the fight against corruption, and that the private sector should promote legal reform and participate in transparency indexes.

Justice Bob wit echoed these sentiments when he compared the reactions to favors granted to favors refused. In the first case, the citizen that asked for the favor will be satisfied; in the second scenario, he may feel that there is an integrity violation at work.

To cut a long story short: if we want corruption to go down to acceptable levels, we all have a role to play. Complaining alone will never do the trick – and that is good to keep in mind, also when readers decide to report what they consider corruption or an integrity-violation to the committee. To borrow a line from Justice Wit: these are serious recommendations.

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