Over the years, the words good government, integrity, and transparency have moved to the forefront of consultants and internal government reports. In St. Eustatius efforts were made to “teach” the government representatives what and how they were expected to adhere to these words and their underlying principles.
The dissolution of the locally elected government in February 2018 was justified based on these words. Today in Sint Eustatius, the question remains whether, under the “new taskmasters” direct rule, are they themselves adhering to and implementing these words and their principles?
While the present direct rulers have embarked on a number of improvements island wide there remains something amiss. Under the abrogated regime there would have been a number of Island Council meetings in which the opposition would have taken the government to task as to the process of awarding contracts, the amount these projects would costs, the time period of the projects, whether the local contractors were able to secure participation in the projects, etc. Eventually, the government would usually approve the projects. If there were any time delays and cost overruns a similar show-down would have taken place. However, this process would have been open to the public, it would have been broadcasted and there would have been summaries in the local newspapers. The entire process would have ensured transparency. The Executive Council would have had to answer a question pertaining to advise and the process. Contrast this to now. The tendering of the bolstering of the teetering Fort Oranje, how did the process go? The road project, what was the delay and how much extra might that cost? The public has a right to know.
The greatest transgression to the transparency principle is surely the organizational restructuring of the civil service. The high-handed manner in which the government has thus far acted is symptomatic of the total disregard for transparency. On April 23, 2019, the government as represented by Mr. Mervyn Stegers, held a session for the civil service to inform them of the steps that will be taken in the restructuring process. However, during this meeting, the government representatives left out cardinal information about how the structure is to be developed. Scant plausible information was provided concerning what this restructuring will look like. There are a number of questions that Mr. Stegers failed to address. For example, how many people will be moved? Will there be new departments created? Are there any new job descriptions? Which positions will be eliminated?
Does not the failure of the government officials to provide this information breach the practices of good governance? Does there not need to be more transparency in the process? Compounding the problem is that the government officials are asking the civil servants to take a leap into the unknown and commit to his plan without a clue as to the major implication for their future within or out of government. How many new units will be created? How many actual positions will be eliminated due to downsizing? Does not this lack of transparency raise a question as to the integrity of the entire process?
One wonders if the government officials just assumed that the civil servants would agree with an unknown plan. It seems that they underestimated their intelligence and critical thinking capacity. During this meeting, when pushed to clarify the re-structuring process Mr. Stegers answered by stating that too much information would ensue chaos. But transparency is not the nurturer of fear. Rather a lack of transparency will ultimately increase fear and lead to chaos.
Mr. Stegers divulged that within two weeks each civil servant will be individually presented with their new role and by July 1st the new structure would be in place. In evaluating these profound issues, the effort seems more an exercise in obfuscation rather than transparency. Sandra Alvarez once stated states, “Lying by omission breeds mistrust. Once the person you have been hiding things from finds out, the likelihood of them trusting you again has gone out the window.”
Transparency is intended to breed trust. By failing to have public debates on the issues, and by curtailing the information flow, trust is ravished and transparency becomes murky in the process. The lack of transparency is not a characteristic of good governance and is surely leading to integrity issues. It is interesting that over the years, we Statians have been told that we were lacking in these three areas. Perhaps it is time the lessons were reciprocated in the opposite direction.
The EUX writers club
The pen is mightier than the sword
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