Published On: Tue, Oct 16th, 2018

Moral aspects

Hilbert Haar

By Hilbert Haar

Well, well well. Hear hear. The appeals court has acquitted Maria Buncamper-Molanus and her husband Claudius of quite some charges in the so-called Eco Green-investigation. Terms like ‘no crime was committed’ and ‘I have done nothing wrong’ will start singing around again.

And of course, it is a fact that the court ruling favors the beleaguered Buncampers in many ways. That they established a bogus company called Eco Green to avoid paying taxes over rental income from a piece on land on Soualiga Boulevard is not against the law, the court ruled. Like everyone else, the Buncampers are free to choose ways to pay as little taxes as possible.

That is, in my opinion, just one side of the story. When you live in a glass house – like a politician or a high-ranking civil servant – you cannot live by the rule: it is not forbidden and therefore it is allowed. Apart from legal arguments there are also moral aspects to consider and that does not seem to be the strong point of these people.

Contrary to popular belief, I have nothing against the Buncampers; but I do have a problem with privileged people who are constantly hunting for even more advantages from a community that has been serving them already so generously.

If you obtain a piece of land in long lease from a government of which you yourself (at the time) were a part, it already does not smell too wonderful. But if you then come up with a construction – legal or not – whereby you are gonna sell the economic ownership of that land for 300 times the annual lease fee, it simply stinks to high heaven. Land speculation (‘grond speculatie‘) is a term that comes to mind.

But okay, if the law allows this, maybe it is time to have a look at the law. That won’t happen of course because the people who stand to benefit most from these rules are the ones who take the decisions about legislation – our esteemed politicians.

And while the court rules on most of the charges in favor of the Buncampers, one ugly charge remains standing: profit tax fraud. Willingly and knowingly, the Buncampers kept $225,000 in rental income from their bogus company Eco Green hidden from the tax inspectorate for three years. That’s $675,000 in concealed income – money that most people in St. Maarten will never see in their lifetime.

The punishment for this violation of the law is relatively mild. A 25,000 guilders fine and 240 hours of community service for each of the defendants.

The question someone posed to me is how soon we will see the Buncampers sweeping the streets on many a Saturday morning. After all, 240 hours equals six 40-hour work weeks and they have only two years to complete the task. With around 104 Saturdays available during those two years, they will have to fill 30 of them – roughly 1.2 per month – with 8 hours of giving back to the community they defrauded so handsomely.

Of course, the defendants will argue that they only have a little difference of opinion with the tax inspectorate and that they have done nothing wrong. But with the court ruling on the table, it’s a bit too late for such lame arguments.

The question that will play on most people’s minds will be this one: will the Buncampers really do their community service? Who is keeping an eye on the execution of this verdict? Or will these fraudsters use their money for a trip to the Supreme Court in The Hague – almost guaranteeing them a stay of execution for two years – and hope that after such a long time everything will be forgiven and forgotten?

If I had any money for betting, I would put it on this last option – but time will tell.

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Related news:
Many acquittals but Buncampers found guilty of tax fraud