Published On: Thu, Nov 29th, 2018

Useful lesson

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Boom! Gerrit Schotte to jail for three years, banned from politics for five years. It is not unexpected, but the Supreme Court ruling has sealed it.

The implications of this ruling also spread to St. Maarten and not only because of the involvement of casino owner Francesco Corallo in the Schotte-case.

Remember, this is all about buying political influence and in the run-up to the elections in 2010 everything seemed possible for aggressive politicians who had managed to dress up their message in a new outfit.

Schotte floated into the position of prime minister in Curacao on the wings of his freshly established Movementu Futuro Korsou (MFK). In St. Maarten Theo Heyliger’s United People’s party (UP) – also a newbie in the political arena after he had left the Democratic Party – seized power that same year.

It cannot be a coincidence that Gerrit Schotte appeared as a guest speaker during the final UP-rally before the 2010 elections, right next to the building of the now defunct Today newspaper on the track of the never realized ring road. It suggested a neat link between Schotte, Heyliger and their donor Francesco Corallo.

Corallo has always supported political parties in St. Maarten – and there was no law that regulated these donations until 10-10-10. “I give to everybody,” he once told me. And why not?

The law that regulates the financing of political parties in St. Maarten was only established after the 2010 elections, after the island became a constituent state within the kingdom of the Netherlands.

It stands to reason that the UP also benefited from donations by Corallo. It makes sense and there is nothing against it – apart from the fact that one could argue that political donations equal buying political influence. what else could it be?

While this is an undeniable truth, fact is that those donations were permitted and that there were no rules. Whether somebody put up ten bucks, a grand or a million – it was all good and well.

It becomes of course a different story when there are conditions attached to such donations – and so far nobody has seen reason to investigate whether this was true in 2010 in St. Maarten.

However, the game could enter a new phase with the prosecution of MP Theo Heyliger- now leader of the newly established United Democrats – a joint venture of the UP and the Democratic Party. It makes me think that, like retail stores, political parties require a remake every so often – same dog, different hat.

Who knows what will come out of the Heyliger-investigation? Right now, it is about the – alleged – attempt to bribe former MP Romain Laville into giving up his seat in parliament in exchange for lots of money, land for his family and the promise of a ministerial post.

But once investigators begin to investigate, they could stumble onto anything. Look at the Marcel Loor-case of some ten years ago. It began with allegations about fiddling with immigration procedures and ended with a conviction for all kinds of other stuff.

The way things are going now, St. Maarten stands at the beginning of a new era. Younger politicians -especially Rolando Brison and Ardwell Irion – are beginning to make their mark and the old establishment is heading for retirement. Whether this will lead to a meaningful clean-up of that pigsty called politics remains to be seen. It is up to the new generation to define St. Maarten’s future – inside and outside of the parliament.

The story of former wonderboy Gerrit Schotte ought to teach all current and future politicians a useful lesson: you can get away with shenanigans for a long time but old sins have long shadows and you should not be surprised when one day they catch up with you.

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Related article: Supreme Court upholds Schotte’s conviction