Roorda awarded damages, but does not get job back

PHILIPSBURG--Country St. Maarten was not a good employer when it dismissed Finance Department former head Bas Roorda shortly after he reported alleged criminal activities within government, the Judge of the Court of First Instance ruled Monday.

The Court awarded Roorda NAf. 25,000 in damages, while government also was ordered to pay the costs of the legal procedure, estimated at NAf. 2,129.50.

Roorda became head of the Finance Department of the then-Island Territory of St. Maarten on December 2, 2009, on a three-year contract.

He was dismissed effective May 1, 2010, because, the Council of Ministers stated, he had violated the pledge of secrecy in providing the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT with information concerning back-service obligations in connection with payment of APNA pensions for civil servants.

Roorda lost two previous court cases in which he sought reinstatement.

In the court case on the merits, which was heard November 9, Roorda primarily sought to establish that his dismissal by the Council of Ministers had been "unreasonable" and without judicial consequences. Therefore he requested the continued payment of his wages, with interest, as well as his reinstatement until the end of his contract.

He requested damages to the tune of NAf. 270,037 as well as payment of US $1,000 per day in case of non-compliance.

Judge René van Veen stated that he needed to find an answer to the question whether Roorda's labour agreement had been terminated lawfully, or the termination of his employment had been unreasonable.

According to Roorda, he had been performing according to his obligations as a civil servant in reporting faults in the island's financial administration to the CFT.

The Court stated that government might be obligated to provide the CFT with required information, but that did not mean that this would apply to every civil servant, including persons working for government on a temporary basis, such as Roorda.

"It is reasonable to assume that Roorda should and could have known that the 2011 budget and the CFT's positive advice was a politically sensitive issue. Because of this alone, he already should not have discussed the back-service obligation in APNA pension with the CFT without the knowledge of his direct chief (the secretary general) and the minister," the judge wrote.

Government had mentioned during the handling of the court case several incidents that, according to the Judge, were all indicative of the disturbed relationship between Roorda, Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto and Acting Secretary-General Sherry Hazel.

"The image surfaced of an industrious and competent employee who strictly followed the rules, but who had no eye for the fact that as a temporary worker he was a subordinate and therefore subject to instructions by his superiors, whether he approved of these instructions or not," the Judge wrote, indicating that government had not provided any "false" reasons for Roorda's dismissal.

Roorda had maintained that the real reason for his dismissal had been his reporting to federal detectives the alleged misappropriation of government finances in the payment of pocket money for travelling staff at the Tourist Office.

Judge van Veen said there were no indications that Roorda had been summoned to a meeting of the Council of Ministers on March 31 to discuss the many incidents, his lack of loyalty, or the prospective termination of his labour contract.

The Judge said he did not believe that Roorda's reporting of alleged crimes had not contributed to his dismissal. He said the crime report might not have been the major reason for Roorda's dismissal, but had been the straw that had broken the camel's back.

"Reporting possible crimes is a legal obligation and can never be the 'straw' as mentioned before. With the immediate termination of the work agreement and the short period during which Roorda was temporarily suspended shortly after Roorda had filed a report about alleged crimes, government acted against the requirements of a good employer."

The judge came to the conclusion that government had been unreasonable and had brought this concurrence of circumstances – unfortunate or not – upon itself.

Considering the short term of the contract, Roorda's salary, the disturbed relation for which Roorda also might be held accountable and which made it unlikely that Roorda would have finished his contract, as well as his education, the Court considered NAf. 25,000 a reasonable amount in compensation.

20 December 2011

 Bastiaan Roorda is represented in this case by HBN Law. The Government is represented by Gibson & Associates.

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