Published On: Mon, Mar 25th, 2019

The K-word

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

I was waiting for it and it finally happened. Members of Parliament have begun to describe the transfer of bribery-suspect Theo Heyliger to a prison in Bonaire as kidnapping – the K-word.

Asked for his opinion about the extension of Heyliger’s detention by sixty days, Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Stuart Johnson was wise enough to evade the question by saying that he stands with his party leader and that his thoughts are with Heyliger’s family and kids.

In the meantime, the United Democrats seem to be using Heyliger’s spouse Grisha Marten as the battering ram to drive their points home. That Marten stands with her husband during these difficult times is not only understandable but also logical. No issue there.

But the United Democrats seem to be prepared to use any means to bemoan Heyliger’s prolonged detention. First there was a statement from Heyliger’s mother Lillian Wathey under the endearing headline A Mother’s Pain.

Then came a second statement from Marten. Here is a piece of it: “Theo’s arrest by heavily armed special investigators was absolutely unnecessary and a disgraceful abuse of state power designed to intimidate the people. His subsequent abduction and swift transport to another jurisdiction was even more outrageous. That is not good governance by any stretch of the imagination. It is the old colonialism disguised in new form. When local democracy is pushed aside for an agenda set by strangers who reside thousands of miles away, it is nothing more than the old colonialism hiding behind new language.”

And that’s not all: according to Marten, her husband was stripped of his membership of Parliament “based on a legal technicality exploited by prosecutors and magistrates.” This is a reference to article 50, paragraph 2 of St. Maarten’s Constitution: “A member of Parliament is suspended by law if he is in pretrial detention for crimes mentioned in paragraph 1.” This applies to the charges brought against Heyliger.

Since when is the country’s Constitution a technicality? Isn’t it so that the prosecutor’s office simply applied the law, rather than exploiting it?

But no, in the world of the Heyligers the law is there for other people. Nobody made a fuss when dangerous inmates like Carlos Richardson and dozens of others were transferred to prisons in the Netherlands. Nobody has trouble sleeping when a kid with psychological issues robs a restaurant and then disappears into the prison system for God knows how long.

But when politicians become the subject of a criminal investigation it is suddenly all about colonialism, “exploiting the law” and “kidnapping;” all this because of the transfer of one of their own to a nearby prison with better conditions than those in the police cells in Philipsburg.

To add insult to injury, Marten even suggests that there has been “almost no economic growth and development since the hunt for Theo began.”

While I understand Marten’s frustration, I have more trouble with the attitude of parliamentarians who are not in jail yet. In those circles the term kidnapping has been used for the lawful transfer of Heyliger to Bonaire. In those circles nobody got the idea to say: okay, innocent until proven guilty, but if these charges stick we don’t want anything to do with it.

It is apparently much easier to blame perceived colonial powers for the application of an article from a Constitution St. Maarten’s politicians approved back in 2010, then to acknowledge that there is something seriously amiss when people who are supposed to act in the interest of the people  become the subject of a criminal investigation into alleged wrongdoing.

The worst of all is obviously the message this sends to the community, especially to young people: it is okay to break the rules and when you get caught we will always support you. And that attitude has to be the basis for attempts at improving tax compliance? Give me a break.