Published On: Sun, Dec 4th, 2022

Front men

By Terrance Rey

The time-tested and true use of a front man in business on Sint Maarten is a well-known phenomenon.

This phenomenon is in line with the strategy: Own nothing, control everything.

Unfortunately, this usage comes from the need to misuse many of the loopholes found in the island ordinances of Sint Maarten when it was just a pristine island consisting only of beaches, lagoons and ponds and investors were looking for prime properties to develop on the island.

When I migrated back to Sint Maarten in 2007 and wanted to establish a company on the island, I was told about a well-known way to avoid the lengthy bureaucratic process. You could go through the licensing process quickly if you appointed a white person to be the director of your company. It didn’t matter what kind of white person. It could be American, Canadian, French or British. But it is always better if it was a Dutchman.

Because there was also a way to create a ‘short cut’ to speed up the permit process. This was achieved by drafting the permit application entirely in Dutch: the language of the notaries and lawyers on the island. Also judges, doctors, registered accountants and consultants.

Most of the civil servants appointed back in the day by the political establishment as a reward for their support during elections barely spoke or read a word of Dutch, let alone understood what those official-sounding words in deeds and extracts meant. They would quickly rubberstamp these documents for approval to get them off their desk.

The use of front men was a well-known way for politicians (read: commissioners) to hide their possession of government land, permits and lucrative water rights.

The most used straw man on the island of Sint Maarten at the time was called “De Blanke”. He is even said to be the father of a then young and ambitious politician, a rising star in the political firmament. Unfortunately, like Icarus, this young politician turned out to have wanted to fly too close to the sun and burned himself with the desire to be in ‘greener pastures’ too fast and too soon. The fate, unfortunately, of many millennials who find themselves on a political slippery slope, driven by a desire (call it ‘greed’) to get rich quick. These politicians looked to become rich on the backs of the people of Sint Maarten who vote for them and put their trust in them, with or without a little incentive of, for example, 300 dollars to pay their GEBE bills.

De Blanke was notorious on Sint Maarten. Few know his story. It’s a good thing too. Because many politicians, some dead and gone by now, knew how to put him to good use and to put him to work for them. As a result, an important part of the history of the economic development of Sint Maarten remains untold. But some of the generation before my time know very well where the ‘bones are buried’, to quote an old Sint Maarten saying, when it comes to corruption cases in which De Blanke was happy and eager to give his cooperation.

I always say: what happens on Sint Maarten, also happens on Curacao, and vice versa. There you had the late Nelson Monte on Curacao. He knew better than any other how to put straw men – and women – in front of his cart. The most pathetic straw man I know from that period was Ben Komproe. He was briefly Prime Minister and then Minister of Justice of the Netherlands Antilles in the cabinet of Mirna Louise-Godett, with the duo Anthony Godett and Nelson Monte in offices right next to his in Forti, the government building in Willemstad. The antics they pulled off and the pressure they put him under, Komproe suffered physically from the severe stress this caused until his untimely death in 2004 at the age of 62. A very pathetic case.

Sint Maarten politicians were nothing compared to these politicians on Curacao. On Sint Maarten they had gentlemen’s agreements. It was expected, for instance, that when a commissioner was in power, it was simply his turn to ensure that his bed was well-spread financially for himself and for his family and closest friends and advisors. Once, when a commissioner refused to participate in this self-enrichment carousel, he was unceremoniously voted out in the next election. When asked how that could happen, political pundits had the answer ready: If a politician can’t take care of himself, how do you expect him to take care of others. That commissioner was never re-elected again.

Note: The use of front men is still very much active on Sint Maarten to this day. For example, you now have ‘De Gele’. You can see him on the streets of Philipsburg and on the Boardwalk on his little motorbike. A simple man, friendly and very helpful. But few know that he is a front man for the biggest harbor barons on the island and, as such, is the director of one of the largest real estate companies on the island with assets in the harbor, on the cruise port and on the most famous arcade on the boardwalk of Great Bay. Looks can be very deceiving on Sint Maarten. You will be surprised to know who all is linked to whom.


Originally published in Dutch on DossierKoninkrijksrelaties.nl as “Stromannen

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