Published On: Wed, Jan 16th, 2019

A sad conclusion

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Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Had the government been a private company it would have gone out of business a long time ago and most ministers would have been locked up for the way they squandered the money they are supposed to manage.

That is the rather sad, though not unexpected, conclusion I draw from the General Audit Chamber’s report about the country’s 2016 financial statement.

When ministers break the law by spending money that is not in their budget, they are sending a message that will inspire ordinary citizens to do the same thing. This results, as we have seen since 10-10-10, in a downward spiral. It does not encourage citizens to be tax-compliant when the guys who tell them to do this have no regard for the rules whatsoever.

It is interesting that the Audit Chamber chose to take a closer look at procurement – the purchase of goods, services and projects by the government. In its findings, one brilliant sentence that attempts to explain the lack of compliance stands out: “There is a risk that interests, other than those of the public, may have been a determinant factor.”

I have never before seen anyone stating so politely that corruption could be the main reason for not following the rules. It makes sense to do this politely: nobody wants to get shot for stating the obvious, but it does not change the reality.

Procurement of goods, services and projects – that’s where the big money is going and that’s where corruption finds fertile grounds.

Knowing all this, there is a role for the government’s supervisory board – yep, the parliament – to intervene. The people’s representatives cannot stand by idly knowing that the government is doing whatever it pleases with public funds.

The term government in the previous sentence is actually not entirely accurate: it should read in the plural form: governments. Why? Because financial management, and public procurement with it, has been a mess since country Sint Maarten came into being on 10-10-10. Let’s forget about all the stuff that happened before that date – it is water under the proverbial bridge.

All governments since 10-10-10 have condoned weak and inadequate financial management and procurement without uniform rules.

You don’t need a university degree to read into the Audit Chamber’s remark about “other interests” (see above) that this lack of control and lack of rules opens the door for corruption on a grand scale.

In this context it is telling that the government is always late with its financial statements. These statements are compiled by government of a different signature and the current Minister of Finance can claim with a straight face that, yes, he is aware of these shortcomings and yes, he  is going to do something about it. It is a work in progress.

In the meantime the party continues. Let’s see how our parliament is going to deal with this Audit Chamber report. That will tell us what politicians think about the importance of sound financial management.

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Related article:
Audit Chamber: “Ministries are not in control of public funds”