Published On: Fri, Aug 31st, 2018

Systematic corruption

Hilbert Haar on Sysematic Corruption - Photo by Milton PietersBy Hilbert Haar

With some amazement, if not amusement, I have taken note of the ‘I stand with St. Maarten’ march in Philipsburg. Obviously, this was a protest organized in support of MP Theo Heyliger, who is the subject of prosecution on charges of a (suspected) attempt at bribery.

The protesters claim that the country’s leaders are being prosecuted ‘systematically.’ In my opinion, that’s a tall order. Maria-Buncamper-Molanus has been sentenced for tax fraud, former MP Patrick Illidge for bribery and MP Frans Richardson is on the ropes for bribery too. Is that systematic prosecution? It feels more like systematic corruption and fraud.

Therefore, I think that this protest has another objective: to create a smokescreen and to shift the focus from the (correct or incorrect) charges against MP Heyliger.

This is a rather pointless exercise that will not impress the prosecutor’s office. I have nothing against MP Heyliger and I truly wish him well. But if the prosecutor’s office brings criminal charges against you, you just have to go through the process and await the outcome. No matter what some people seem to be thinking, the judges in our court system are independent; they don’t take orders from political pundits in The Hague to guarantee the desired outcome of a trial.

You see, the protesters are calling on Parliament to get on with the independence referendum. What does that tell you? It tells you that local politicians are dragging their feet with this issue. They could have called this referendum eons ago, thus getting the unbiased opinion of the population. But so far, Parliament has not done this, and I think I know why: they fear the outcome of such an exercise.

I also know that expressing this opinion tempts people to say that – see, you’re a Dutchman – you don’t want St. Maarten to become independent. To those critics I say: I have more love for the island of St. Maarten, that I have proudly called my home for twelve years, than for the Netherlands. And I have come to understand the intense desire of the fighters for independence – like Jose Lake Jr. I still salute his unwavering efforts today.

At the end of the day, the decision about independence is up to the citizens of St. Maarten. The Hague has no say in this matter. Independence does not take a phone call to The Hague, it requires action from LOCAL politicians – and so far, they have been disappointing the proponents of independence.

What the march of the I stand with St. Maarten movement strongly suggests is that there is no respect for the independent judicial system.

Okay, so now what?

If locals want to be judged by their peers, they will have to find qualified candidates to fill the shoes of the public prosecutor and to fill the shoes of the independent judge. Why don’t we have those people?

Because nobody wants to do this job, and on a certain level I understand why this is so. I think that the same way of thinking explains the lack of local journalists. To do that job, you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and to do what the job requires: you write everything that is fit to print, even if it affects your neighbor, your family or your best friend. Few people are prepared to pay the price for this. And again, given the small scale of the St. Maarten community, I understand that. I was fortunate to work on the island as a journalist for twelve-plus years without any strings attached. I had good contacts, but I could not afford to have real friends.

Project this concept on the judicial system, where local prosecutors may have to indict someone they know, someone who is a member of their family or even somebody who has been their friend for decades. How are you going to handle that? Same goes for local judges who have to decide whether they are going to send somebody close to them to prison or if they are going to acquit them.

So now, to the protesters who were asking to be judged by their peers, I say: let those who want to step into the shoes of the public prosecutor and the judge stand up.

If nobody does, you are stuck with Dutch prosecutors and with Dutch judges. In that case, don’t complain, but do something about it, instead of whining about Dutch colonialism.