Opinion: Tough times

POSTED: 06/30/11 12:30 PM

Our High Councils of State are having a tough time and it is about time for the Parliament to spring into action.

First the Corporate Governance Council sounded the alarm. Now the Ombudsman is joining the choir with what seems to be a more than justified complaint. The Ombudsman was appointed per October 10 of last year, but in the past nine months the bureau has been left mainly to its own devices.

We asked (just to make sure), and somehow the salaries of the four staff members are paid every month – but that’s about it. Funding for equipping the organization are stuck somewhere in that mysterious monster called bureaucracy, and nobody seems to care.

This is how the Ombudsman is without computers, without business cards, without a proper phone system (which is kinda funny being in the building of a former cell phone company), without furniture and basically without the money it needs to do what needs to be done.

Yesterday the Ombudsman presented her first annual report in what felt like the cellar of the building, while on an earlier occasion she had borrowed the neatly equipped conference room of the General Audit Chamber. Not this time: if journalists were surprised at all that they were received in an acoustically handicapped room that contained one table, one small desk, one small grey metal book case and a generous number of plastic garden chairs, they did not show it.

But the purpose of herding the fourth estate into this somber and stark environment did not go unnoticed in the end. Journalists learned that the Ombudsman was sitting on a borrowed chair herself, that the two printers in the building had been financed with private funds, and that basically everything is missing.

There is no money for a professional information campaign, for instance. That the Ombudsman needs such a campaign became abundantly clear from the fact that 27 percent of the complaints filed so far at the bureau, should have been addressed to another instance. The Ombudsman pledged shortly after her appointment already that “nobody will leave this building without an answer” so the staff did dedicate time to help complaining citizens on their way to the right address all the same.

While it became clear yesterday that the money for the ombudsman is somehow stuck in the bureaucracy, there was no answer to the question why it is stuck, and who is causing this unfortunate situation.

We know for instance that at least one member of the cabinet considers the Corporate Governance Council as a nuisance (something environmental organizations are familiar with) that causes bureaucratic red tape. Keeping the council on a financial short leash has not really worked so far, because the appointed members have doggedly continued to do their work – resulting mainly in advice the government did not want to hear about.

The Ombudsman is another institution designed to contribute to better levels of good governance. Based on results, the government’s enthusiasm for this bureau is similar to its enthusiasm for the Corporate Governance Council.

After all, if funds are available, how difficult can it be to release them? So far, it seems to have been real easy to keep the money under lock and key. That suggests ill-will on a certain level, and if there is something to this suspicion it feels like a matter the Ombudsman ought to investigate.

For the time being we have to give it to Arduin and her skeleton crew: their spirits are high and they are determined to carry out the job for which they were appointed. It is hard to imagine that the Ombudsman’s call on Parliament to take action would fall on deaf ears, given the fact that the parliament’s president, Gracita Arrindell, has for years pleaded inside and outside the Island Council for the establishment of the Ombudsman.

Now that the Ombudsman is there, Arrindell ought to step up to the plate.

 

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Comments (1)

 

  1. George MacGee says:

    Sorry, Mr. Haar, the President of Parliament is on vacation until the 5th of August 2011. The Ombudsman is on her own.

    Excuse the sarcasm, but I just had to let it out.

    What I am extremely disappointed about is this: Holland should have known (better) that any Government in St. Maarten (or even Curacao for that matter) would not be happy having watchdogs in their backyard, especially with a superwatchdog (the CFT) at its frontdoor.

    Which burglar is ever happy to know there are dogs around a house he wants to burglarize?

    Holland should have appropriated funds specifically for the advisory bodies it wanted set up in the new countries of St. Maarten and Curacao. At least for the first four years, so that these institutions wouldn’t have to go hat in hand to the same government begging for funding it is suppose to oversee. It defeats the purpose of what their objective is or what they are trying to achieve.

    The Dutch Government rammed the CGC down the throat of the St. Maarten Government. It should have had the foresight and wisdom to fund this entity directly and independently.