Opinion: Transparency

POSTED: 12/9/14 11:29 AM

What would it take, in your opinion, for St. Maarten and all its institutions to become an integrity leader in the Caribbean by 2020?’

That is the question Transparency International poses to the citizens of our country. The corruption watchdog, working on a national integrity system assessment, awaits input at the email address to  until the end of this month.

How to become an integrity leader? Hmmm, we figure that this requires a few key components. Honesty, transparency and accountability come to mind. That is the easy part. Putting these components in place and keeping them there is another matter.

In our mind, transparency is at the heart of everything. That is why the name Transparency International is so well chosen – it cuts to the chase. Without apologies, Leopold James would say.

So let’s make transparency a core element of the road to leadership in integrity. The first feeble steps have already been made. For instance, the National Gazette is available online. If you want to know whom the tax inspectorate is chasing, that is the publication to read. It also contains policy rules and laws published by the government.

Interesting, but it is only the beginning. There is so much more to unveil.

We favor the publication of all taxi and bus permits the government has ever issued. The name of the permit-holder must be included in such a publication; that goes without saying.

Then there is the matter of building permits. As things stand now, anyone can go to the Vromi-ministry and request a building permit. If everything is up to scratch, the permit department will issue it. With a permit in hand, construction can begin and that could be a nasty surprise for interested third parties like neighbors.

Therefore we support a system whereby requests for building permits are published in the local newspapers and in the National Gazette in such a way that it does not cause unnecessary delay to the one who asked for the permit. But the six weeks citizens now have to object after a building permit has been granted, ought to become six weeks before it is granted –counting from the moment the request is published.

To someone who wants to build something this should not make any difference. To interested third parties this is an improvement, because they are now able to voice objections before a permit has been granted. Once given, it’s tough to turn things around.

Then there are the business trips parliamentarians, ministers and civil servants undertake. These trips should also be published in such a way that citizens are able to understand why Minister X went to China, or why a group of civil servants traveled to Latin America. The costs of these trips must also be made public.

These are just our initial thoughts based on our idea that transparency is the key to everything that matters. Several states in America maintain websites that literally show how every penny of taxpayer money is being spent: from the salaries of the governor and other dignitaries, to that of teachers, firefighters, police officers and garbage collectors.

We have floated that idea already some time ago but – as was to be expected – the politicians who is interested in that level of transparency has not been born yet.

Bring out your ideas and help making St. Maarten a better place where taxpayers’ money is spent in a sensible way.

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