Published On: Mon, Mar 17th, 2014

“RAMIZ, go to COURT”

dekker_0“Be careful if you are a business person and thinking to invest, or move your business to Curacao,” posted Nelson Ramiz, an airline entrepreneur, on his Facebook Page.

Ramiz is accusing Curacao of a “closed business elite”, manipulated by a small group of all-controlling Caciques, and dominated by a culture of nepotism, favoritism and cronyism. Unfair competition, price fixing, monopolies and cartel formation, non-transparent collusion with government officials and subsidy privileges, form but a part of Ramiz’ accusations.

Supposedly, Ramiz came to Curacao in good faith “to rescue a company “--- DAE-airlines---, but “our airline was eliminated by using all kind of methods including government officials.” Without any doubt, the failure of Ramiz’ company, DAE, sent enormous shockwaves through the island economy and caused long lasting damage to the hospitality industry.

The case of DAE and Nelson Ramiz is too complex and complicated for me to make a judgment based on a few newspaper articles, and such is neither my task, nor duty, as a columnist. What jumps out from Mr. Ramiz’ protest is, that he has the strong negative perception; when it comes to business, Curacao is not a “ level-playing-field.”

Justified, or not, Ramiz does not hesitate to convey his perception of Curacao-business to new, foreign investors and whoever wants to hear it. Ramiz preferred to use the Court of Public opinion, rather that the Judiciary.

Every society generates an elite. Whether professionals--like lawyers, accountants and doctors---, businessman, or politicians, they all group together for mutual benefit. Nowadays, a new, much more pleasing term for this activity is, networking.

Membership of any such elite is supposedly based on merit, or is it? If membership of the elite was only based on merit, all who qualify would have access, and the open elite forms a meritocracy in an open market, that has the potential to create enormous wealth for all.

But, unfortunately, it is human nature to group together and, especially on a small island dominated by xenophobia, elite groups close ranks and limit access to friends and family. Such way, a closed elite is born, and soon, only graft buys influence, access and participation. Even equal treatment by the government of all citizens, as guaranteed by the Constitution, becomes no more than a symbolic statement. No longer, what you know, but whom you know, makes the difference. Such, meritocracy makes place for cronyism by a few oligarchs. It is a process that can be observed in many countries, and seems to be second nature to South America and the Caribbean.

Politicians, the philosophers of our society, should lead and protect the society from such opportunistic behavior by the ruling elite. Laws, regulation and oversight should bar such detrimental behavior and guarantee a level-playing-field to all. Unfortunately, politicians themselves often fall victim to their own weaknesses and are bought by oligarchs. A society with checks-and-balances would bring such corruption quickly to the forefront, but, what remains of a controlling parliament on the little island of Curacao, turns out to be insufficient.

So, the ruling elite is to control and police itself. It is expected to have the ethics, integrity, and education to take necessary action, when and where needed. Professionals, doctors, accountants and lawyers, formed Ethics Review Boards and police their own members, but businessmen do not.

In most countries, a special branch of the Judiciary is supposed to execute that task of marginal ethical testing. Our little island is too small for such sophistication.

The business image of Curacao would benefit tremendously, if and when the business community were to set up its own Ethics Review Board and police its members. It would provide the Nelson Ramiz’ of this world with a Ethics Court, where they can direct their complaints, rather than a Court of Public Opinion.

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