Published On: Tue, Jan 22nd, 2019

Outside expertise

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

The funding of the airport’s reconstruction via the World Bank trust fund was practically guaranteed to light the fire under the opposition in parliament and members of the National Alliance and United St Maarten party factions did not disappoint their constituents on Monday afternoon.

True to form, nobody thought of expressing some gratitude for the $100 million that will become available to put the tattered airport back on its feet. No gratitude for the (future) arrival of experts that will assist the airport holding and its management.

Instead, the opposition complained about the conditions that came with all that money. A temporary seat on the holding-board, a temporary seat in the management team – based on mutual agreements about the candidates for these positions – are just one part of these terms. The airport also has to go through an integrity check and the corporate governance risks assessment has to be completed.

Knowing about the hanky panky that has been going on at the harbor for years, who could have an issue with such conditions? The airport’s head of security is currently in custody on suspicion of taking bribes and money laundering – at least an indication that something is rotten at some of the highest levels.

An integrity check and a corporate governance risk assessment are two instruments that could help to reveal possible weak points in the airport’s organization. That’s beneficial not only to the airport, but also to its shareholder and by extension to our citizens.

But no, the opposition chose on Monday afternoon to blame the government for not only accepting the conditions but even more so for proposing at least a part of them – the positions for outside expert on the holding-board and in the management team.

The opposition wants St. Maarten to be in control. Unfortunately, there is a problem: the country has proven over and over again that it is not in control at all. We do not have the money to rebuild our own airport, we do not have the money to solve our problems with the dump and we do not have the balls to tackle corruption at the highest levels.

With such an attitude you are asking for trouble and for donors to demand a finger in the pie. One could argue that this is not the fault of the government – but I don’t agree.

Corruption exists by the grace of those who condone it. Who are these people? The first in line are the supervisory boards – for instance at the harbor and the airport. But behind these boards the government also has a role to play. How often did new governments not change the boards of these crucial facilities to bring them in line with their policies without ever making clear what those policies were?

The guilty parties are among us and we all know who they are. Today they are in the government and tomorrow they are in the opposition, so all criticism from any current opposition against any current government is hypocritical with a capital H.

There is a lot of talk about transparency, honesty and accountability. But that’s what it is: all talk and no substance. If our community really wants to eradicate corruption it needs leaders who are prepared to grab the proverbial bull by the horns without a personal agenda as its driving force.

Right now, we don’t have such leaders and until we do, that is why outside expertise at the airport – but probably also at the harbor, at GEBE and at telecom provider TelEm – remains sorely needed.