Opinion: The benefits of blindness

POSTED: 08/3/11 1:17 PM

According to the World Health Organization, about 0.6 percent of the world population is blind.  Ninety percent of all blind people are living in third world countries.

The question has now become opportune whether Greece qualifies as a third world country. The Greeks, who are probably envious of the minor financial troubles St. Maarten has to deal with, are on a budget cutting rampage, pressured as they are by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union who have sunk billions into the debt-laden home of the sirtaki.

And what did the Greek number crunchers discover when they (finally) went through their own books? That there is an island with 30,000 inhabitants of whom no less than 600 claim to be blind.

While the government has not disclosed the name of the island, Kos is the most likely place with excessive blindness, because it is the only Greek island with approximately 30,000 inhabitants. So much for the Greek attempt to protect their own.

If Kos stuck to the world average, only 180 islanders would be blind. The government now suspects that the remaining 420 are playing their own version of blind man’s bluff by claiming social benefits based on a condition they don’t have.

Further investigation of this form of community fraud may bring to light that a significant number of the blind people in Kos happen to be civil servants, though we have to admit that we are lightheartedly jumping to conclusions here.

The beleaguered Greek government has reason to be suspicious, if only because it knows its own people all too well. Earlier investigations have shown that for years the government has been paying our pensions to citizens who had been dead for years.

We don’t want to suggest that something similar is happening in St. Maarten, but for a cash-strapped government as ours it seems a good idea to have a look at our expenses. We remember all too well that there are ghost civil servants on the payroll – people who get paid but who never do a day’s work for it. Have they all been flushed out? Are we continuing to distribute tax payer money freely like there is no tomorrow?

Our own history shows that, like the Greeks, our governments have almost consistently been sloppy when it came to controlling their resources. We recall with gusto how the government paid 306,000 guilders in Christmas bonuses to civil servants in 1994. Problem: the island was under higher supervision, and the government needed prior approval from the governor for all expenses exceeding 25,000 guilders. The bonus wasn’t even part of the 1994 budget.

There is quite some anecdotal (but not really funny) evidence that over the years consecutive governments have shown that they are incapable of getting a grip on the island’s finances. The relevant question today is of course: are there any signs of improvement?

Before you know it our government, inspired by its Greek comrades-in-debt, is getting ready for an are-you-really-blind discovery tour among social benefits recipients.

Blindness however has many faces, so to speak. History provides us with enough proof that our governments have always been wasteful, and there is no reason to assume that things are different today.

Local blinds will find comfort in the Bible, where Mathew (7: 3-5) says: “Why are you looking at the splinter in someone else’s eye, and do you not notice the beam in your own eye? How dare you say to someone else: Let me take that splinter out of your eye while you have a beam in your own eye?”

We rest our case. 

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