Opinion: Sturm und drang

POSTED: 09/5/12 10:42 AM

If there is something we really dislike it is when somebody says something like “These things happen.”
This was about all the reaction we managed to obtain about the decision by at least three members of the supervisory board of the Harbor Group of Companies to resign. It’s good that two of the board members are apparently ready to put up a fight against the marching orders Economic Affairs Minister Romeo Pantophlet issued to the board.
Taken at face value – yes, these things happen. But we’d like to add that they happen for a reason and also that the way this came about is not at all kosher.
St. Maarten is following the Schotte-tradition of trashing procedures to benefit a political agenda. The question attorney Camiel Koster already posed in this newspaper is whether this bal masque will propel Pantophlet allies into a position of power at the harbor.
That would defy the purpose of the supervisory board. As Karel Frielink, another attorney with a weak spot for good governance pointed out earlier, politicians (or their friends) are not necessarily good at running or controlling a company. That’s why government-owned companies are best left in the hands of professionals and why supervisory boards are designed to protect the company and its management against undue political influence.
The move Minister Pantophlet has made signifies that there is not a lot of respect for the rules of good governance – if there is any respect at all.
We have seen in the past what political influence is able to do to a government-owned company. The word damage is the first one that comes to mind. This is how the TelEm group of companies ended up with a payroll so bloated that it paralyzed the companies flex in the market. When interim manager Pieter Drenth noted that the company could be run with less than 100 employees (while there were more than double that number on the payroll) politicians were quick to rally and to stand up for the protection of what were in reality non-existent (or at least unnecessary) jobs.
That this could have led in the end to the total demise of the company did not seem to occur to anybody. Certainly when there are elections around the corner, employment is a cool topic for winning votes, so under those circumstances no politicians will get it in his head to take sensible decisions about a government-owned company if this involves dismissing something like a quarter or more of the entire work force. That’s political suicide 101 – and that is also why politicians have to be kept away from direct influence on these companies.
When the competition comes knocking inefficient companies will lose the battle for market share. And when the competition is unable to knock because politicians have offered their own companies protection, citizens will end up with lousy services at exorbitant prices.
At this moment it is unclear who the new board members of the Harbor Group of companies will be and how those people relate to the minister and his party. Even more uncertain is how these newcomers will relate to the two board members who are apparently prepared to ignore the Minister’s sturm und drang and to hang on to their positions.
In this context it is telling how the harbor’s CEO Mark Mingo protected the outgoing board members against contacts with the media – at least with this newspaper. When we first asked for contact information, Mingo referred us to his secretary who would provide the information. But all we received was an email in which she stated that ‘after talking with Mr. Mingo” it was deemed incorrect to give this information to the media.
When we encountered Mr. Mingo during the weekend he assured us that this was a misunderstanding: at least, we could have the email addresses of the board members. But a request to provide these stranded again at the desk of Mingo’s secretary. She had discussed this again with her employer and arrived at the same conclusion: email-addresses are also private and cannot be provided. That’s why we obtained the information in the end not via the front door, but via the back door.

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