Published On: Sat, Aug 26th, 2023

A hot air balloon

By Hilbert Haar

According to UD-MP Sarah Wescot-Williams Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs sent a letter to government-owned companies urging them to hire locals for management positions.

See Government has no clue how to advocate getting locals in managerial positions; passes the buck again

Preferential treatment was the first thought that came to mind. MP Wescot-Williams wonders in a reaction to this letter who qualifies as being a local or a St. Maartener. Damn good question.

My second thought was that it is logical wanting to have locals in top positions at government-owned companies. I have always defended the idea that if two candidates are equally qualified and one of them is a local, then that local ought to get the job. Indeed, why hire an outsider if you have qualified people at home?

Unfortunately, it is not all that simple. I refer to the Staatsregeling for St. Maarten, our constitution. Article 16 establishes the equality-principle. Allen die zich in Sint Maarten bevinden worden in gelijke gevallen gelijk behandeld. (Everybody who is in Sint Maarten will be treated equally in equal circumstances). Discrimination based on any ground is prohibited.

And what about article 17: Alle Nederlanders zijn op gelijke voet in openbare dienst benoembaar. (All Dutch citizens can be appointed in public service on equal footing).

Remember: all politicians – ministers and members of parliament alike – have sworn to uphold the constitution.

Based on data from the local bureau for statistics (STAT) there were 2,269 unemployed citizens in 2018. Of this total, 275 had completed tertiary education, 169 had post-secondary education. This shows that the number of candidates for top positions is rather limited.

The real unemployment-headache is elsewhere, because 985 people had secondary education and another 798 had only primary education. A small group of 69 had no formal education at all.

In other words, the ratio of moderately and non-educated unemployed people to highly educated unemployed people is roughly 82:20. In other words, for every well-educated unemployed person there are four with a much lower education.

An analysis of the highly educated group of unemployed citizens is unfortunately not available, though it would be interesting to do that exercise. How many of them are serious candidates for a top position at, for instance, the Harbor, TelEm or the Airport? And how many of these positions are already in the hands of locals?

Prime Minister Jacobs letter feels like a broad statement, the first bullet fired in the upcoming campaign season. Nobody wants to deny qualified locals a shot at a good job, but the key word here is qualified.

So the third thought that came to mind is that Jacobs’ letter to her government-owned entities is a political stunt, because it sends a feel-good message to voters: look we are standing up for our own. There is of course nothing wrong with that, but if these ideas are nothing more than hot air balloons that are, to make things worse, at odds with the constitution, the electorate ought to consider how much this move is really worth.