“What you need are engaged citizens”
St. Maarten – “We will leave St. Maarten with a set of benchmarks as a basis for calling officials to account,” says Zoë Reiter, the regional program manager for the Americas Department of corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI).
Together with Max Heywood, the regional coordinator for her department and Natalie Baharav of TI’s communication department Reiter is on a week-long visit to St. Maarten to fine-tune the findings the organization collected in the months of July and September for its National Integrity System Assessment. The final report will be presented towards the end of March of next year, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
Until the end of this month, citizens have the opportunity to submit their input about making St. Maarten an integrity leader in the region by 2020, to the email address [email protected]. Tomorrow there is a lecture at the University of St. Martin and on Friday there is a workshop for which TI invited around 35 stakeholders.
TI started its work on the integrity system assessment in March of this year, and data collection took place during the months of July and September. “It was hard to find studies containing data about St. Maarten,” Heywood says during an interview at Holland House. “That made the interviews with people on the island even more important.”
TI’s mission this week is to get feedback on the data it collected earlier this year. “We want to make sure that what we found is also the way the people here see things,” Heywood says. “We are looking for a balanced approach.”
The main goal of the exercise is to identify recommendations and to set priorities. “For that we need the input from the people who live in this country,” Heywood emphasizes.
When the report about St. Maarten appears in March of next year, Transparency International is close to completing its one hundredth integrity system assessment since its inception 21 years ago.
“It is not just the responsibility of the government to fight corruption,” Heywood notes when asked whom the researchers talked to for their assessment. “This concerns the government and the private sector alike, so we talked to representatives of both sectors.”
As things go with reports of this kind, “people are wondering what will happen next,” Heywood says. To prevent another report from disappearing into a deep drawer, never to be heard from again, “you need local ownership,” Reiter adds.
The TI-researchers are satisfied with the cooperation they received from their sources. “We found a lot of openness,” Heywood says. “Of course, some people asked us to consider certain information as being off the record, but their openness was sufficient for our work. Our main challenge was the lack of data.”
Heywood declines to say how the round of talks of this week will affect the interpretation of the data collected in July and September. “I prefer to leave that for the final report, but we are talking about small adjustments. And we do need the feedback, because we want to make sure that what comes out of this is useful for St. Maarten.”
How do you prevent a report like this from disappearing into that deep drawer in some government-office? Reiter: “You need reform-minded people in leadership positions and they don’t necessarily have to be in government. Involving the people is crucial. It is not enough to present the results to the government. What you need are engaged citizens.”