Published On: Thu, Feb 6th, 2020

Tempest in a teapot

[PUBLISHER’S NOTE: It has been brought to our attention that certain information published in our opinion piece written by Hilbert Haar are incorrect. First of all, the Facebook-video by labor department head Peggy Ann Dros-Richardson was published on January 2, 2020. Furthermore, the government of St. Maarten did not issue a warning letter to Dros-Richardson, nor did it demand a public apology nor suspended her when she refused to apologize. StMaartenNews.com apologizes for the incorrect statements published.]


Opinion - St Maarten News

Tempest in a teapot

By Hilbert Haar

Towards the end of January a Facebook-video published by labor department head Peggy Ann Dros-Richardson upset the government so much that it suspended her and demanded a public apology. She refused – and rightly so.

More than a week further down the road Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said during a Council of Ministers press briefing that she had not yet received information about what the LMA (Landsverordening Materieel Ambtenarenrecht – the rulebook for civil servants) says about the right of civil servants to make public statements.

With that reaction the prime minister made clear what the Facebook-row really is: a tempest in a teapot. If this issue had been so important to Dros-Richardson’s employer, surely, Jacobs would have grabbed a copy of the LMA and informed herself. But no, she apparently opted to wait for someone to offer this information to her on a silver platter.

It is now clear that the video was not made during office hours, so that point cannot be held against our videographer. What about the LMA-rule that says that employees of the government have to behave like good civil servants?

That’s also rather vague. How are do good civil servants supposed to behave? There is at least one among them – the writer of a series of letters to the editor under the headline The Conspiracy to Ruin MP Christopher Emmanuel – who has been leaking confidential (or at least internal) documents.

While Jacobs said on Wednesday that the government has the technology to detect who is leaking such documents, there have been no reports about disciplinary measures against anyone in this case. Could this be because the letter writer is obviously close to Emmanuel and therefore a ranking member of the prime minister’s party, the National Alliance? Just asking.

The LMA makes clear that civil servants are prohibited from making confidential information public. One would think that, after watching the video that the prime minister has a pretty good idea whether anything Dros-Richardson said falls into that category.

But no, Jacobs is still waiting to receive information about what the LMA says.

What we have established in the meantime is that the LMA does not give the government the right to demand public apologies from its civil servants.

Interestingly, the LMA does not stipulate either that disciplinary measures have to be imposed on civil servants who break a rule. It says that such measures can be imposed. This makes punishing civil servants a political choice. It’s about time to change that rule.

I don’t know if Dros-Richardson is affiliated with any political party but that should not matter anyway (though it probably does). The real question remains why the letter writer who came to the defense of MP Emmanuel – who is obviously at least close to the National Alliance – has not been found yet, let alone disciplined for leaking confidential and/or internal government documents.

Justice is supposed to be blind but in this case it seems to keep at least one eye open.

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Related articles:
PM Jacobs unaware of freedom of speech rules for civil servants
The right to freedom of expression for civil servants – an overview
Does a Facebook-rant justify disciplinary measures?
The Conspiracy to Rehabilitate Christopher Emmanuel