Opinion: Political grandstanding on St. Maarten

POSTED: 08/28/11 9:53 PM

Since we were utterly confused, we grabbed the opportunity to ask our Minister of Telecommunication Franklin Meyers for an explanation about the UTS-TelEm controversy. This week, Vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger threw his chippie-phone away or, maybe he sold it, we don’t know) and he made a lot of noise about the fact that he is now a TelEm customer.
Both Minister Heyliger and Justice Minister Roland Duncan made statements about the situation they have on their hands with Curacao’s minister Cooper refusing St. Maarten two seats on the UTS-board.
We do not need to go into the details of the affair, they have been well published. The question is of course: why did the Vice-Prime Minister get involved with a high profile karate kick towards UTS, why did the Justice Minister make statements about it, and why did our telecommunication Minister not say a single word?
Well, Meyers said, I only deal with policy. Minister Duncan is the shareholder representative on the UTS-board. And Vice-PM Heyliger is, in case anybody had forgotten, the leader of the United People’s Party.
Ah, that’s why.
We still think that while all the emotional arguments are flying about, the real goal for St. Maarten has gotten lost in the process. After all, we need a solid telecom provider on the island, and at the moment we don’t have one.
Okay, there is UTS and there is TelEm. But, as the long since departed interim manager Pieter Drenth once pointed out, he could run TelEm with less than one hundred employees. Currently, the payroll hovers around the two hundred.
What does this mean? That the company is saddled with a payroll that does not justify the scope of its activities. All these people need to be paid, and politicians have been saying for years that cutting jobs at TelEm is a no-no.
We do not doubt that the good people at TelEm are making an honest effort. But the dry facts tell us that too much money is going out the window (towards the salaries of employees the company does not really need) and that the process to find a strategic partner seems to have become a political puzzle without a solution.
That solution is of course right in front of everybody’s nose. It’s called UTS, a company that fits well together with TelEm. The people know each other, they get along, but they will never get married if it is up to Minister Heyliger because he threw a fit over issues that are not beyond repair.
A realistic talk with Curacao’s Minister Cooper would most likely reveal that, as the Dutch say, “de soep niet zo heet gegeten wordt als hij wordt opgediend”, and that there is enough middle ground for bringing both companies together. That would most likely also solve the board-member issue Minister Heyliger got so excited about.
A strong local telecom company is in the interest of all citizens, provided of course that it does not turn into an arrogant monopolist. We need guarantees to protect consumers and our economy against such behavior. But it is all possible, and it is also very necessary. Political grandstanding makes for nice photo-ops, and we’re not shy to use them either, but they do not bring they island real solutions.
We suggest to let the dust settle and to let parties get back to the negotiating table.
Here is the golden tip for success: please leave all egos at home.

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