The Kingdom newspapers are full of integrity issues.

In the Netherlands, government officials in policy areas for which they were politically responsible effortlessly change their hats for a cap in exchange for magnificently paid work in the private sector. A Secretary of State’s list of App contacts, filled with important names, significantly increases his market value as a lobbyist.

Aruba and Curaçao

On Aruba and Curaçao, the screening procedures for potential ministers do not always go well. You end up having to look for someone else while initially, it seemed as if the selected candidate could jump through the screening hoop.

On Curaçao, everyone is shocked by the conviction and practically simultaneous imprisonment of a well-known notary. A former Central Bank President may face criminal charges again after a previous prosecution ended in acquittal. What is going on with all these bigwigs?

Corporate Governance perspective

From a corporate governance perspective, integrity issues are an important and challenging phenomenon. It is not so much the question of where the boundary lies for an individual (going from being secretary of state to lobbyist or not, temporarily (?) lending money or not (?) that should be going to your (ex?) clients). The real question is: when are you going to put a stop to this kind of conduct? And if you don’t or can’t, who in your environment will help you with that?

I assume that in most integrity violations (also in these examples), the people involved actually believed that their conduct was acceptable. I presume that they do not think of themselves as ‘bad’. If there is any doubt, it is usually quickly reasoned away. Without timely correction, it is easy for all of us to fall over the edge where integrity turns to lack of integrity. In our Caribbean societies, falling over the edge is even harder to avoid. We are even less able to withstand criticism here than the Dutch. If someone points out a boundary to us or says that we are in danger of crossing it, or have crossed it, then we are immediately offended. We all know that too, which is why we keep quiet. We stand by and observe. The person concerned can then carry on and convince others that it is actually alright – until they are exposed.

Collective responsibility

On a supervisory board, there is an additional problem. You are collectively responsible (and in the worst case also liable) for everyone’s conduct. This also applies to the conduct of your colleague who never arrives on time, who does not read his documents, who is actually not a good supervisory director at all and who is mainly engaged in power games. That conduct is a risk, also for you. Do you correct that man or woman or not? And if so, how?

The obstacle to intervening is often created by fear of communication about the problem. Most people do not think it is right to speak critically about a fellow supervisory director. That quickly seems like speaking ill of someone. If you only say it to the board chairman, it is betrayal. ‘Why didn’t you come to me first?’, the supervisory director, who is unpunctual, lazy and power-hungry, then asks. Well, that’s a tricky question and you cannot really answer: ‘Because you would then make life impossible for me on this board and with a bit of bad luck on Curaçao and in the entire Caribbean Netherlands!’

Still, you and your colleagues on the board have to engage in those difficult conversations. That starts with formulating the expectation pattern: how do we want to behave on the board and in relation to each other? That is what you are going to do. Integrity must be learned and you need each other for that – end of story.