SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - In light of the apparent norm within the civil service of having one person fulfil multiple critical roles at the same time, Party for Progress (PFP) Members of Parliament (MPs) Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson questioned Minister of General Affairs Silveria Jacobs and Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) Egbert Doran about the practice in an official letter on Friday, October 8, 2021.
MPs Gumbs and Peterson based their letter on the National Ordinance Structure and Organization of National Government, also known as the LIOL.
According to Articles 5-9 of the LIOL, there is a clear distinction between the Secretary-General (who oversees the day-to-day operations of a ministry), a department head (who reports to the Secretary-General on the department’s functioning), and the head of an operating organization (whose section executes tasks based on ministerial policy).
The MPs posed several questions about the Ministry of VROMI, which, according to the LIOL, has one department and five operating organizations. The operating organizations are, namely, New Projects, Infrastructure Management, Domain Affairs, Inspection, and Permits.
Reportedly, VROMI has even had one person simultaneously occupying the positions of Secretary-General (SG) and the heads of two operating organizations at a certain point. Although a standing practice in government, this situation has no legal basis and can result in potentially damaging conflicts of interest, said MP Peterson.
As an example, MP Peterson added, “the Secretary-General, according to the national ordinance (LIOL), has no role to play in the executive duties of the operating organizations. This is not part of their mandate by law, and any interference with the executive tasks of the operating organization does not have a legal basis if it is not solely concerning a proposed policy for that operating organization.”
The MPs asked the following questions about Domain Affairs, which has been understaffed for several years :
- Since January 2020 up to now, who have been the heads of the operating organization Domain Affairs, whether acting or official, and from what date to what date did they serve as the acting/official position of head of operating organization Domain Affairs?
- If there have been acting-heads of the operating organization Domain Affairs in the period mentioned above, what was their official position within the organization of VROMI prior to taking up the “acting” role of head of Domain Affairs?
- Did they have other “acting” roles at the moment of being acting-head of operating organization Domain Affairs?
“VROMI has created the misconception that the SG has a say when it comes to the executive decisions taken by the operating organizations. An advice being sent back to the department by the SG with “corrections” regarding whether an advice is positive or not, has become a habit. The constant battle between heads of the operating organization and the SG is a well known phenomenon within the Ministry of VROMI.”
The MPs also posed general questions about acting positions within government. This is why the MPs included Minister Jacobs, as the Ministry of General Affairs handles government’s personnel issues and relationships in a broad sense.
In this regard, MPs Gumbs and Peterson asked:
- How is the “acting” position regulated within government?
- If a person is to be “acting” in a certain position that is not their current position within the Ministry that they are working at, what is the actual procedure?
- Can a person become “acting” without a national decree (landsbesluit) signed by the Governor?
- What is government's official stance on this “acting” phenomenon that happens?
- Is there any relevant documentation concerning this?
“The persons who are the Secretary-General, the department head, and the head of the operating organization all have different roles to play in the checks and balances of government. Their distinctive functions have been made clear in the law, and for the government to function effectively, you cannot have one person fulfilling these critical roles. We’ve seen what this has caused in the past and history is bound to repeat itself, as we are seeing now,” said MP Peterson.
“A proper system of checks and balances is vital for any bureaucratic institution, but even more so for the government, which is tasked with managing public funds and executing projects on behalf of the people in a responsible manner,” concluded MP Gumbs.