“Politicians do not like advice”

POSTED: 12/29/11 12:08 PM

Corporate Governance Council Chairman Louis Duzanson

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – “I don’t know what the chances are that the parliament will disband the Corporate Governance Council we are looked at as if we are interfering, but all we do is what the law says. If the parliament is not happy with that, it ought to repeal the law,” the council’s chairman Louis Duzanson says.
Duzanson repeats what he has said untold times before: the Corporate Governance Council was established by law, and it abides by the rule of law. “It is really very simple. But politicians do not like advice.”
Whether they like it or not, the council has been given plenty of advice that has been quietly followed by the government. This process however, does not take place in the public eye. The council’s advice is to the government and not for immediate public consumption. Citizens will only become aware of an advice when a minister or a Member of Parliament speaks out about it.
The criticism the council has had to endure recently comes as a bit of a surprise, given the fact that back in 2009 the Island Council supported its establishment unanimously.
Democratic Party MP Leroy de Weever was also a member of that island council, but he has now become the most vocal opponent. In June de Weever tripped over his own earlier support, by saying that he does not support the council’s funding by government-owned companies.
But the island council that gave the council the nod of approval in 2009 implicitly agreed to do exactly that: in article 12 the Island Ordinance determines that the Corporate Governance
Council’s costs, including the remuneration for its members, are for the account of the government-owned companies and government-controlled foundations. How these costs have to be split between these entities has to be regulated in a separate ordinance.
De Weever also said in June he believes that the council “interferes with the mandate of the politician that is given by the people through elections.”
In 2009 though, there was no objection to the Corporate Governance Council at all.
Duzanson does not understand the negative sentiment either. What triggered it? Was it the controversial appointment of former tourist bureau director Regina Labega as airport-director? Duzanson doubts that. “We did not really give a negative advice,” he says. We asked for additional information – and we received it. We also made recommendations – and they were followed. You cannot construe that as being negative.”
In fact, the Corporate Governance Council did recommend against Labega’s appointment. In a letter dated May 9, 2001, the council wrote to the Council of Ministers: “Whilst there remains a cloud hanging over her integrity, to protect the interest of this vital company you should not appoint Mrs. Labega at this time but consider an alternative candidate, or a solution such as appointing an interim director.”
But on July 5, Labega got the job all the same. Rumors about a clause in her contract relating to a possible future criminal conviction in the tourist bureau embezzlement investigation remained unconfirmed. If it ever comes to a conviction, parties involved in the appointment said this summer, Labega would do “the right thing.”
Duzanson in the meantime, remains neutral about the future of the council he chairs. “If there is a sentiment that the council is no longer needed, act upon it,” he says. “Go ahead, and abolish all of them – our council, the General Audit Chamber, the Council of Advice and the Ombudsman. But if that happens, you will see the same thing happening on many different levels on the island. There are lots of problem areas where the law is not applied.”
The Corporate Governance Council is still waiting for proper funding. The by now infamous 400,000-guilder check the Finance Ministry wrote to the council has not been used, though the money is still available. “We have suggested creating a chapter in the budget for our council, like the government does with all advisory bodies, to register the income from the government-owned companies under it, and to pay our expenses out of it,” Duzanson says.
The criticism coming from politicians like De Weever, Leonard and Heyliger violates every agreement that has ever been made about the Corporate Governance Council.
During a meeting of the political steering group at the Belair Community Center on January 22, 2008, Commissioner Wescot-Williams signed an agreement with then Kingdom Relations State Secretary Ank Bijleveld about good corporate governance. The Kingdom law on financial supervision also confirms that St. Maarten has established legislation to introduce the corporate governance code. On May 11, 2009, the island council established both the code and the council. On November 17 of that year the executive council appointed the council-members. In a congratulatory letter to the appointees, the government explicitly referred to the fact that the council will be funded by the government-owned companies. The letter also listed an overview of responsibilities, and – important in the context of the current controversy – it mentioned the council’s independence.
“Essential for the council’s functioning is acquiring respect and authority. To achieve this, the council must be able to advise independently from the shareholder, the executive council and the island council. It is therefore important that your council does not let itself be led by political issues and that it cannot be put under pressure by politicians or commissioners for the sake of a favorable result or outcome.”
Right now, Duzanson says that his main concern is about the council’s budget for 2012. “In a couple of days we have to close off our 2011-accounts. If we know what the government wants to do with our 2012 budget, we also know what we can and what we cannot do.”
And then there is the lack of communication with the government and with the parliament. In October, Duzanson reminded the President of Parliament, Gracita Arrindell, of a letter he had sent on February 23 of this year. In it, the council asked parliament to invite the Council of Ministers to execute the Island Ordinance Corporate Governance. “Regrettably we must establish now (8 months later) that you have not even acknowledged receipt of our letter.”
That is not an incident, Duzanson said yesterday. “We have to advise the government about the dividend the government-owned companies are going to pay. But we don’t even know what the government’s intentions are. All we know is that the companies are paying a concession fee, but how exactly that is established we don’t know either. There is a lack of communication. We have given several times advice – for instance about our own plan of action and about the appointment of the managing director of the Central Bank. We never got an answer.”

Did you like this? Share it:
“Politicians do not like advice” by

Comments are closed.