Opinion: Social code of conduct

POSTED: 07/15/13 12:01 PM

Justice Minister Dennis Richardson made a remarkable observation in the interview we publish today: corruption in the Netherlands is not the same as (what is perceived as) corruption in St. Maarten.

With close to 17 million inhabitants, the Netherlands has a huge arsenal of potential candidates for certain functions and for certain projects. St. Maarten, with around 38,000 inhabitants, is in this respect a different animal altogether. How many people living on the island are capable of doing Job-X or of executing Project-Y? How many citizens are actually fit to occupy a seat in our parliament, in any of our high councils of state, let alone in the executive branch of our government?

It is not that St. Maarten – or St. Maarteners by extension – lack talent. Not at all. But the raw numbers are so different from those in the Netherlands that sooner or later there is a clash that is often perceived (and sometimes for good reasons too) of a conflict of interest.

Minister Richardson characterized St. Maarten as a tribal community. Tribes have funny habits: they look after their own first. And sometimes, that is all they do. If you belong to the wrong tribe, you will more often than not be looking in from the outside.

We remember from not too long ago a remark by a Dutch politician whose name we have gracefully forgotten – or it could have been a remark in the 2007 report about organized crime from the Scientific Research and Documentation Center of the Dutch Justice Ministry.  The source is not all that interesting, but the perception it represents is; the contacts between politicians and citizens in St. Maarten are too close for comfort.

That, at least was the remark from the Dutch. How is it possible for politicians not to be close to citizens in a community of not even 40,000 inhabitants? One could run into a minister, a Member of Parliament, or any other local big shot in any place on the island at any moment of any day. Should they then duck out of sight to avoid contact? That is of course too crazy for words.

The local rumor mill however never stops working. This is how stories get around that “the son of so and so” obtained a contract to do a project because daddy happens to be a minister.

You cannot say that my son is not allowed to take part because he is my son, Minister Richardson says. The right approach is: my son is allowed to take part, but your son is allowed to take part as well.

This is not always happening, and Richardson is not blind to that reality. Local politicians often only let members of their own tribe take part, he observed.

The minister has discussed this phenomenon with Piet Hein Donner, the current Vice-President of the Council of State. There, an idea was born to establish a social code of conduct.

Now we all know that the local makers and shakers are not big on codes of conduct. But this one could prove useful. The key is transparency and openness. Let’s put on the table what is allowed and what is a no-no, Richardson said.

Such a code would not prohibit someone’s family from taking part in government projects, under one condition: it has to be made public, and others must have had a shot at the same job too.

It all makes perfect sense and it fits in our Prime Minister’s proclaimed drive for more transparency. But will a social code of conduct ever see the light of day?

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House Property For Sale on Beacon Hill, St. Maarten

Comments (1)


  1. M. de Vreede says:

    May we ask Mr Richardson to make a proposal for this (Social) Code of Conduct? Thanks in advance.

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