Published On: Thu, Dec 13th, 2018

United against corruption

Hilbert Haar

By Hilbert Haar

“On the occasion of International Anti-Corruption Day we are united against corruption.”

That’s a line from a recent statement by Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever.

Here is another quote from the same statement: “The government of St. Maarten will always adhere to the rule of law and the principles of good governance.”

Sounds good, right? We have a government that stands up against corruption. But what do these statements really mean? If they are only words that are not followed by action at appropriate occasions, they mean a big fat nothing.

I do not know what kind of discussions are going on in the Council of Ministers; in the field of corruption, they have plenty to discuss. Unfortunately, right now there are two examples that strongly suggest that corruption is not at the top of the priority list and I wonder if the topic is on any list at all.

Let’s take a look at three situations – two within the government organization and one outside of it.

The head of infrastructure management at the Vromi-department, Claudius Buncamper, has been found guilty of tax fraud. The policy advisor to Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Stuart Johnson, Regina Labega, has been found guilty of embezzling money from the Tourist Bureau. The (now former) chief registrar at the courthouse, Maritsa James-Christina, embezzled more than a million dollars from the accounts of the court. Her case still has to go to trial but in the meantime the civil court has found that she did embezzle the money and that this was sufficient reason for her dismissal.

This is how the common Court of Justice deals with people who break the rules. You steal money from your employer, you lose your job. How this case will end in criminal court is an open question, because there the burden of proof is heavier. In my mind, James-Christina’s dismissal is a logical result of her own actions.

You’d think that everyone is equal under the law and that stealing, embezzling or committing fraud are all good reasons to send an employee packing.

Our government stands united against corruption, Minister De Weever said not too long ago. Ain’t that great, I thought. I immediately started wondering how united the government is. Do all member of the Council of Ministers share the same opinion? Do they really not accept any form of corruption? Or are they just saying that because it sounds good?

I label Minister de Weever’s anti-corruption statement as his ‘intention.’ And when I apply my fool proof formula of I + A = R (Intention plus Action is Result) I expect a result that matches the words. It requires specific action. If that action does not return the desired result, the intention is simply a blatant lie.

And what do we see? Claudius Buncamper, sentenced in criminal court for tax fraud, still has his job. Regina Labega, ousted as airport-director because the security service refused to issue a certificate of good behavior and sentenced in criminal court for embezzling money from the Tourist Bureau, is still working as policy advisor for Minister Johnson.

In the private sector theft from employers is punished with dismissal – and rightly so. When you work for the government you are apparently allowed to do whatever you like. Tax fraud is a form of stealing from the tax-paying population; embezzling money from the Tourist Bureau comes down to the same thing: tax money badly needed for the promotion of St. Maarten disappeared into the pockets of a greedy civil servant.

As long as the government does not take action against fraud and embezzlement within its own ranks I don’t believe a minister who claims that said government is united against corruption.