"A front page story published in The Daily Herald on Thursday, August 27, 2009 under the headline "S4 accuses former director of fraud" has attempted to smear and discredit my good name and reputation throughout the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands," former director of S4, Drs. Linda Richardson, stated in her first official reaction to the accusations leveled against her in the story.
The issue of the housing allowance which seems to be at the root of these allegations has been known for almost two years by S4 Board and by my employer, the Island Government of St. Maarten," she emphasized. "This matter is being resolved with my former employers, the Island Government of St. Maarten".
Immediately after becoming aware of additional compensation, which was not indicated as housing allowance on her pay slips, Drs. Linda Richardson notified the Director of Resources of the Island Government verbally and in an email, dated December 5, 2007.
"The Director of Resources and I discussed this matter on several occasions. Since the Island Government and S4 did not pay all items of the remuneration package, stipulated in the Island Resolution, it was agreed to sort matters out at the end of her tenure," Richardson further revealed.
After her arrival on the island last month, she has met with the Director of Resources and his staff on this very matter which was still being dealt with when this story was published by the St. Maarten Daily Herald.
Richardson, a former Minister of Education of the Netherlands Antilles, explained that from the time she was appointed as director of S4 in 2005, she had raised concerns about the execution of the terms and conditions of her contract.
"I was appointed in July 2005 by the Island Government of St. Maarten for an initial period of 2 years. I got a resolution (detacheringsbesluit) with a number of conditions and terms, " Richardson stated. Being the first St. Maarten civil servant to be expatriated by the St. Maarten Government, execution of her terms and conditions of service could not be based on any previous precedent, leading thus to questions of interpretation which are still being resolved.
One of the terms stipulated in the Resolution clearly states that the costs for house rent would be reimbursed by the Island Government to S4 to the tune of maximum Naf. 3600 per month. In 2005 and in 2006, the Island Government made payments to S4 for several of the costs, indicated in the Resolution, including the now controversial housing allowance. It is therefore totally misleading and reprehensible to claim that the Island Government did not reimburse the rent to S4 for 4 years.
If the Island Government did not reimburse S4 for costs incurred during the remaining period, it is apparently due to the fact that no account of these expenditure were submitted to the Island Government by the Board of S4.
She describes the assertion in the Daily Herald report that the S4 treasurer and the Board became aware of this situation only recently as "diametrically opposed to the truth". "This matter has been known to the Board since November 2007, she stressed.
In addition, Richardson explained that S4 had not been paying 2300 euro a month for the rent all the time. The rent started at 2000 euro per month.
"Rent in Holland goes up each year gradually. The lease agreement went into effect in November 2005; I negotiated to get the first month free, excluding service charges", she pointed out.
"Furthermore, she said, "I did not rent a rather expensive furnished house. The house was rented unfurnished. I bought the furniture at Ikea," she disclosed.
On the issue of living close to the Royal Palace, she joked "then everybody who lives close to the Central Station in the Hague, is residing next to the Queen.
Richardson stated that there have been differences of opinion between S4 current treasurer and her regarding the interpretation of a number of matters in the Resolution, drawn up and given to her by former employer, the Island Government of St. Maarten.
"But, there was never ever any agreement with S4 board that I would have to pay the difference in rent!" Drs. Richardson exclaimed. "To the contrary, on October 27, 2005, the former treasurer emailed to the other Board members and to me, that the Board would send a letter to the Island Government about the difference in rent and should suggest to have the extra costs charged to the Island Government."
"Like any other professional organization, S4 has a financial administrator who handles all financial matters. As s4 Director, I submitted all budgets and annual accounts for approval to the Board, which is the official channel for presenting an approved budget to the funding agencies, in this case the Island Government and the Central Government. Moreover, seeing that S4 is a new foundation, SOAB, upon my request, reviewed the accounts of S4. To my knowledge, no report about any fraudulent acts at S4 were filed."
"In fact, the same board has repeatedly praised my hard work as director of S4 and my dedication to S4 and to the students. A very positive evaluation report about my functioning was submitted to my employer, the Government of St. Maarten," she added. "And, ironically, while the treasurer and me disagreed on the housing matter at S4, last year, several months before the end of my tenure at S4, the same treasurer urged me to leave S4 to take up a more lucrative position as the director of another foundation in Amsterdam, to which board he is also the treasurer.
Drs. Richardson was also surprised to learn via the media that the Board and her were not on speaking terms. She was not aware that the board-members were not speaking to her. For, since her arrival in St. Maarten, the treasurer telephoned her and expressed his condolences for the passing of a family member on behalf of the Board.
"I am now curious to know which board members are not speaking to me," she said.
"I admit that the relationship between the Board and I has not been ideal over the past 2 years. This is due to my expressing my displeasure about the manner in which s4 Board has been handling the affairs of s4, including the appointment of board-members, the refusal to appoint much needed staff for the proper functioning of S4, the violation of the statutes, and other matters. A board-member who did not agree with the functioning of S4 board resigned as a result of this.
.Contrary to the Board, she brought her concerns to the attention of the Island Government on numerous occasions, the last time in a meeting with the Board and a St. Maarten delegation in April 2009.
"I therefore welcome any investigation into the operations of S4".
"It is clear that I have tried to have this administrative error resolved with the Island Government and that process is still ongoing."
"To be accused falsely of fraud is an unwarranted attack on my longstanding and performance oriented reputation, particularly after going into retirement. It speaks volumes of the persons, who have actively and deliberately disclosed deceiving, misrepresenting facts to the media".
Commenting on the role of the newspaper itself, Richardson said it is the basic principle of responsible reporting to have all facts and be objective in retrieving information and reporting on it. A media entity that prints an article that just states the opinion of just one party, does not corroborates the facts, makes statements about the alleged party’s opinion without consulting her is not just highly irresponsible and unprofessional, but destructive to the very fiber of any society. Ultimately, what the media has done is allowed themselves to be a pawn in someone else’s chess game. I see that and I understand that. However, it is still very despicable that they have allowed themselves to be used, especially when the accuser himself publicly states that he is not on speaking terms with the other party." Drs. Richardson said.
"Just recently, I called a press conference in St. Maarten about The Friendly Island Foundation. The Daily Herald was represented and the story was carried big time. The reporter also had my local contact information. I would like to know how is it that I could not be contacted for comments on this 37 square mile island?" she asked.
Drs. Richardson stated that she also wondered why the newspapers – when they could not get hold of her, did not contact the commissioners of education or finance for their comments? Or, those civil servants who were fully aware of this matter and involved in a solution. "After all, they were my employers and the principal subsidizer of S4."
Richardson concluded by stating that she intends to do everything within her power to have her good name restored.
"My family, my children, my friends, my professional associates and network, and my own future have all been negatively affected by this. It is totally unfair and inexcusable to have this thrown at me at the end of a career that I am proud of. It is unacceptable and I will not take it lying down."
"At the same time, I want to thank the many persons who have been expressing their support, privately and publicly and those who are praying for me. Your support has been a source of strength in this season."