Published On: Tue, Sep 3rd, 2019

Screening: a step in the right direction

Screening process
By Hilbert Haar

Is screening candidates for positions on supervisory boards of government-owned companies a good idea? Definitely. In fact, I am almost taken aback by Prime Minister Romeo-Marlin’s decision to amend the national decree that regulates positions of confidentiality and the mandatory screening candidates for these positions have to go through. Why? Because this change seems to be designed to put a stop to appointments of malleable supervisory board members who function as the puppets of their political masters.

The screening by the national security service VDSM (Veiligheidsdienst Sint Maarten) will come on top of the stipulations laid down in the Corporate Governance Code. It will be an additional layer of protection against undue influence.

The Corporate Governance Code emphasizes in great detail that supervisory board members have to be independent. The boards have to be composed in such a way that it enables “each member to operate independently and critically from one another, as well as from the managing board and from whichever other partial interest that may be involved.”

This line from the code clearly draws the line: supervisory board should be free from external influences and that includes of course political influence.

We all know that this rule is a paper tiger. Successive ministers have gone out of their way in the past to change the composition of supervisory boards in order to align them with their private wishes.

The Corporate Governance Code also provides rules for who can and who cannot be a supervisory board member. For instance, members of the Council of Ministers and “other political authorities” (like Members of Parliament) cannot be appointed.

But the code does not suggest any kind of screening. Instead it says, rather vaguely, that “experts from the fields to be mentioned in the profiles of the relevant companies should be appointed as supervisory directors.”

That’s at least one point for the corporate governance approach: members of supervisory boards cannot be just any Tom, Dick or Harry – they must fit a specific profile.

But fitting a profile will soon not be enough anymore. Candidates must, like candidate-ministers, go through a screening performed by the national security service.

The suggestion by a letter-to the-editor writer that current supervisory board members who have not gone through such a screening should vacate their positions is a good suggestion, but it would leave all supervisory boards with empty seats.

The thing to do is to subject sitting members of supervisory boards to a screening and to send those who do not passs home. This has happened in the past only once when former airport director Regina Labega failed her long overdue security screening. Because the VDSM did not give her a clean slate she had to step down – and rightly so.

The decision to make screening of supervisory board members mandatory is definitely a step in the right direction but in the end it all comes down to how this is going to work in practice. It should not be a paper tiger – the way the corporate governance code has been ignored over the years – but a solid and reliable tool to put the right people in the right place.

###

Related articles:
Supervisory board members to be screened, says Prime Minister
Letter to the Editor: “Decision to screen supervisory board members commendable