By Hilbert Haar
Oh oh; the justice system is doing what it is supposed to do and politicians start to feel the heat. Don’t let their cries of Gestapo-tactics, denationalization and Dutch takeover fool you. Nor should you be fooled by the (repeated) call from that misguided MP Christophe Emmanuel, who keeps insisting that St. Maarten must send a strong message to The Hague that the island wants its independence. It’s all smoke and mirrors, my friends.
All the ruckus in parliament is obviously the result of a decision by the Common Court of Justice that gave the Prosecutor’s Office the green light for the prosecution of United Democrats icon MP Theo Heyliger. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.
But the consensus in our little political arena seems to be that it is okay to send a poor sod to prison for fifteen years because he robbed five jewelry stores, but that it is not okay to prosecute the high and mighty in our community. I’ve never heard politicians complain about the systematic prosecution of our local street robbers, our local murderers, our local drug dealers or our local human smugglers.
But now that the heat is on and the work of the anti-corruption taskforce (TBO) starts to bear fruit, all hell is breaking loose.
I did not listen to the meeting where MP Emmanuel listed all the politicians who have been “systematically targeted” but I am able to rattle of that list of names myself.
Let’s begin with the unforgettable former MP Louie Laveist; sentenced for bribery. Then there was of course the former MP Patrick Illidge; also found guilty of bribery.
In 2010 I witnessed the fall of Public Health Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus; her husband Claudius also went down, but only in court. On October 15 the appeals court rules on this case, after the lower court found the Buncampertjes guilty of tax fraud. The case broke the minister’s political career, but Claudius, sentenced and all, is still a high ranking civil servant.
A bit further back, the head of immigration at the police force, Marcel Loor was sent to jail after an investigation into bribery brought other – mainly financial – crimes to light. Chief Commissioner Derrick Holiday also stumbled over immigration issues.
MP Frans Richardson was arrested in February of last year; suspicions: membership of a criminal organization designed to buy votes for himself, taking bribes to the tune of $370,000 and tax fraud.
Lest we forget, MP Chanel Brownbill, former member of Richardson’s party and instrumental to bring the previous government down by joining the ranks of the United Democrats, is a suspect in the emerald investigation into fraud at the port.
Former MP Silvio Matser also belongs in this lineup of public figures who fell foul of the law with activities like election fraud and tax fraud.
On a different level, Maritsa James-Christina, is currently incarcerated on suspicion of embezzlement at the courthouse. Through her lawyer Zylena Bary she has proclaimed her innocence, but such matters are not settled in the media; they are settled in court.
And let’s not even start about airport director Regina Labega and port director Mark Mingo.
If you look at all these names, you really wonder who is next; not because the prosecutor’s office is bent on a systematic witch hunt, but because there are so many people doing stuff they shouldn’t.
And then there is the matter of MP Theo Heyliger; the prosecutor’s office has obtained permission to prosecute him for an attempt to bribe Romaine Laville into bringing the government down so that the (then) United People’s party could get back into power.
Heyliger’s name also came up in a court case about election fraud in 2010 whereby police officers sold their vote to the United People’s party. An uncle of Heyliger was prosecuted for it, but the party leader escaped from the long arm of justice that time.
So Laville has brought about the prosecution of Heyliger – for all the right or all the wrong reasons – I really have no idea. Even MP Emmanuel once stood on the floor of parliament and hinted that he too had been offered a bribe. And now that same MP is complaining about the systematic prosecution of local politicians. What a joke.
In the past local politicians used to hide behind the nearest palm tree when one of their colleagues got in trouble with the law; they’d only say something like, let the process run its course.
And that is of course how it should be. Our constitutional state is built on the trias politica – the separation of the legislative, the executive and the judicial levels of government.
It is simply not done for one of these layers of government to meddle in the affairs of another level. Politicians should stay far from attempts to influence the judicial system. The courts are independent and when they issue a ruling the citizens who are subject to it have the option to appeal; after that, they could still go to the Supreme Court in The Hague. There are therefore enough guarantees for a fair and balanced judicial process.
Ah, but wait, all those judges and prosecutors are Dutch. Right?
I have no argument with that point, but I do wonder whether this really matters. Former Minister Richard Gibson Sr. has in the recent past made a strong case for training local talent in the legal profession. Gibson wants to see local judges and local prosecutors in St. Maarten’s system in the future.
That this is a valid point needs no explanation. However, the reality is that, ever since 1954 – the year when Queen Juliana signed the Kingdom Charter – there have been hardly any local judges or prosecutors. St. Maarten has had enough time to fill the gaps but so far it has failed miserably.
And let’s be honest: who wants to be a local judge or a local prosecutor in a small community like St. Maarten? Sooner rather than later, these people will have to handle a case that involves somebody they know. And in St. Maarten everybody knows everybody.
Our community is therefore left with just a couple of options. The first one is that the law school gets underway and starts producing results; but who is going to guarantee that those graduates want to become judges or prosecutors at home? You never hear anybody asking that question, let alone providing an answer that makes sense.
The second option is to do nothing and get used to the current system.
The third option is of course independence. That does not require urgent messages to The Hague, as MP Emmanuel keeps suggesting. It requires action from the same people who are now whining about Dutch takeovers, denationalization and Gestapo tactics. It requires that MPs get together and vote in favor of a referendum on independence.
It’s as simple as that. Somebody ought to ask these complaining politicians: why don’t you just do it? Are you afraid of the outcome?
This is what I think: if politicians were convinced that they would win such an independence vote they would have done it a long time ago.
But since they don’t do anything, I figure that they don’t want that referendum. They just want to retain their right to complain about those damned Dutch and continue to wallow in their own misery.