Ombudsman Arduin: Do homework & finish tasks | THE DAILY HERALD

Outgoing Ombudsman Nilda Arduin.


 PHILIPSBURG–Retiring Ombudsman Nilda Arduin minced no words in her parting advice to Parliament and Government: “If we do our homework, we will not be at the mercy of the Netherlands … and we need to not act or react on emotion, rather we should on sound argument.”

Arduin, the country’s first ombudsman demits office with an honourable discharge from Parliament today, Monday, after seven years and two months in office. She will be succeeded by Gwendolien Mossel who took the oath of office earlier this month before Parliament Chairwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams.

Speaking of her accomplishments, challenges and regrets as ombudsman, Arduin told The Daily Herald the squashing of the privacy invading Integrity Chamber law proved the importance of the Constitutional Court in a young democracy. “I believe that with that case we have proven, as a high council of state, the importance of the Constitutional Court.”

The now scrapped law was derived from a protocol between the Dutch and St. Maarten governments. With the verdict of the Constitutional Court on the case brought against the law by the Ombudsman, “we have proven the rule of law, justice and fairness must at all time prevail,” said Arduin.

The biggest advantage St. Maarten can have as it moves on is to pay attention and needed homework. Parliament and Government must realise, said Arduin, “We are not the victim. We have to do our part to make sure everything we do passes the test of Constitution. As ombudsman, I am there to protect the Constitution.”



In her regrets column, Arduin has logged the lack of full comprehension and acceptance by the Council of Ministers about the Ombudsman’s role. This, she pointed out, is linked to the many changes in government in the past eight years. “This lack of continuity of the Council of Ministers, as I told two incoming prime ministers, accounts for two steps back each time,” she said.

The constant change of the people at the helm affects awareness of the role and responsibilities of the ombudsman. However, the lasting damage is in the form of incomplete remedying of policies and directives.

“The civil servants’ hands are tied on the recommendations we make. When the minister changes he or she has to learn about an issue and take time to make a decision; that way our work is affected,” Arduin said. A ministry may improve its service to the public and better its administration, but the signing off of policies lag behind without an informed minister.

This revolving door led Arduin to declare that it is time for a better working format. “We have to learn how to finish the job. When I say we, I mean the community and our leaders. We need to tackle our cultural approach. If we have 10 assignments and finish four, we celebrate and forget we still have six more,” said Arduin. “We have a tendency not to finish what we have to finish.”

The approach of incompleteness rose to the surface after the devastation of Hurricane Irma. A systematic investigation by the Ombudsman found that the country has some procedures in place to handle disaster while in other areas approaches were sorely lacking.

Challenges faced by the country and recognised by the Ombudsman via investigations of complaints filed by residents or via its own reviews are met with recommendations for the improvement of the functioning of government and its entities.



The culture of not finishing tasks creates a vacuum. “The short-term recommendations are followed, but the long terms ones lag behind,” said Arduin. The long-term recommendations oftentimes depend on the “manager” of the ministry – the minister – who may change within a short scope of time.

“If we do not write down procedures we will take ad hoc decisions,” said Arduin, pointing to this as the reason people seeking government services are “told to go and come back over and over again.”

Handbooks and guides are much needed in time of calamity as “Irma” showed, “if there is a guidebook to go to we have some calm in all the chaos. Writing things down is necessary for the archives, to trace steps and for policy in general,” she said.

Case in point is the country’s ordinance on disaster risk management. The law exists although not all of the emergency service functions (ESFs) had plans and sub-plans written out. “Many decisions after Hurricane Irma were made on the spot and not based on a set of procedures,” according to the outgoing ombudsman.

“We are an oral society so we tend to do things on memory,” Arduin said. In the case of an emergency though having written material to guide the response is paramount. “You don’t have to think [when written plans are present], you just have to look and act.”

Arduin said while much of her parting words may sound negative, “I am not leaving on a negative note. I saying: we are not there yet. We have to continue on a note of willingness to provide service to the public.”



The Ombudsman has come a long way from that day on October 10, 2010, when Arduin raised her right hand in front of then Parliament Chairwoman Gracita Arrindell to take the oath of office and took on a role no one else had before.

One of her major accomplishments since that day is the public awareness of the role of the ombudsman. Residents were of the belief that “government was doing all of us a favour when this is not so,” she said.

Thanks to an intense awareness campaign, for which Arduin singled out the media for its role, “people are more willing to hold government accountable whether it is their party in office or not.”

In the early days of the institution some complainants returned to the Bureau on E.C. Richardson Street asking to withdraw an earlier complaint. “They would say ‘the right people are not in office’ because there was a change in government. We had to work in changing that view,” said Arduin.

Source: The Daily Herald