Published On: Sat, Aug 25th, 2018


Hilbert Haar - foto Milton PietersBy Hilbert Haar

It is tempting to note that integrity issues have soared to the surface again in St. Maarten after the common Court of Justice gave the green light for the prosecution of MP Theo Heyliger. The suspicions are that the good MP attempted to bribe former MP Romain Laville back in 2012-2013.

Let me first establish that these are suspicions – allegations, if you want. True or false, that will be up to the independent court to decide.

Fabian Badejo recently published a statement suggesting that the allegations against St. Maarteners are inspired by a Dutch agenda aimed at taking total control over the island. This conspiracy theory is interesting in itself but it is not supported by any facts. If the Dutch want anything, it is to get rid of St. Maarten. Remember Mark Rutte’s remark: if you want independence, all it takes is a phone call?

But Rutte, like everyone else who is not out there to spin the facts, knows darn well that independence does not require a phone call to The Hague at all. It takes action from local members of parliament – THEY are in control. They’d have to call a referendum to get the people’s opinion about going independent. If that referendum fails – and in my opinion it would – then there will be no independence.

For now, St. Maarten functions under rules that have been accepted by local politicians when the island obtained the status of an autonomous country within the Kingdom. That status includes stuff like financial supervision and a court system that is based primarily on Dutch law.

If you accept those rules, then you also have to accept the independent position of the court. This does not mean that one cannot criticize court decisions, or actions undertaken by the public prosecutor’s office.

But Badejo is challenging the independent position of the court by pointing out that only St. Maarteners (plus Mr. Badejo himself) have been the target of criminal prosecution. He goes back as far as the airport scandal in the nineties of last century and also includes the more recent subjects of criminal prosecution like Louie Laveist, Patrick Illidge, Regina Labega, Maria Buncamper-Molanus and her husband Claudius Buncamper. For ‘full disclosure’ he includes himself in the lineup as well. And now MP Theo Heyliger.

See? No Dutch ‘victims’ of this system. That changed last week when anti-corruption officers arrested Ronald Maasdam in Rotterdam. Maasdam was a technical assistant to St. Maarten back in the eighties. Now he too has been caught in the crossfire of the investigations into corruption.

What Badejo seems to forget is that you have to do something wrong first, before the prosecutor’s office comes after you. To be able to do something wrong – on a corruption level that matters in terms of dollars – you have to be in a position of power, or you have to be close enough to those in power. And these people happen to be predominantly St. Maarteners.

The presumption of innocence applies to all suspects but when you happen to be a prominent player in a community, news about prosecution does not remain a secret for long. In that sense, trial by media is almost inevitable. Just reporting that the court took a decision to prosecute MP Heyliger may tempt some to consider him already guilty – but that is far from the truth. It is just a – rather negative – side effect of being in a high profile position.

Heyliger has said it himself many times: they always accuse me of everything. Those accusations usually floated through social media, but this time the prosecutor’s office is involved.

I do not think for a second that the prosecutor’s office would lightheartedly drag a high profile citizen like MP Heyliger through the process of criminal investigation if it did not have solid grounds. The Common Court of Justice safeguards politicians against frivolous actions from the prosecutor’s office.

All this still does not mean that MP Heyliger is guilty.

What amazes me though is the traditional silence in the political arena. Grisha Marten posts on Facebook that she stands with Theo (she is married to him) and Minister Stuart Johnson also issued a statement to support the leader of his party.

But nobody – friend nor foe – has made a statement saying that – whatever the outcome of the procedure against MP Heyliger may be – they denounce bribery practices. Even the opposition remains mum.

And that, my friends, is what really worries me. As long as politicians circle the wagons around any colleague accused of wrongdoing without denouncing the illegal and criminal practices they are being accused of, integrity will remain a major headache in St. Maarten.