The decision of the Joint Court of Justice to grant the Public Prosecutor’s Office permission to prosecute United Democrats leader, MP Theo Heyliger is in line with previous decisions of the same court concerning other sitting Members of Parliament, and thus, does not come as a surprise. Theo is “suspected of having committed bribery between 2012-2013,” the Public Prosecutor’s Office said in a terse press release issued on Tuesday, August 21, 2018, in which it added that it would “not be issuing any further statements.”
This is rather unusual for a Public Prosecutor’s Office that has mastered the art of using the media to influence public opinion, however, my concern here is more about the obvious pattern of targeting prominent St. Martiners for criminal prosecution on charges that always have to do with integrity.
Perhaps a random list of such prominent people would refresh our memory: the late Dr. Claude Wathey, his son, businessman Al Wathey, attorney and former Lt.-Governor Ralph Richardson, former managing director of the airport, Frank Arnell, former MP in the Parliament of the now defunct Netherlands Antilles, Crastell Gumbs, former Commissioner Rene Richardson, former MPs, Louie Laveist, Patrick Illidge, Silvio Matser, as well as sitting MPs Chanel Brownbill, and Frans Richardson. On this random list are also former Minister Maria Buncamper-Molanus and her husband, top civil servant, attorney Brenda Brooks, former Managing Director of the harbor, Mark Mingo, and former SXM Airport Managing Director Regina LaBega… and the list goes on. We could of course add former Notary Elco Rosario and for full disclosure, yours truly as well.
What is evident from this list is the fact that it is made up of mainly politicians, and professionals charged with the management of the two most important strategic assets of St. Maarten: the harbor and airport.
Another fact that jumps out of this list is that it does not include the names of any Dutch nationals from Holland. With at least 3,000 Dutch people residing and working in St. Maarten, it is highly remarkable that only two or three of them have been charged with any criminal offense in the last two decades during which period the Prosecutor’s Office has spent millions of dollars to prosecute about 20 prominent St. Maarteners.
The logical deduction from this is that Dutch people (from Holland) are squeaky clean, incorruptible, epitomes of integrity and probity, saints that do no wrong, and never commit a crime. On the other hand, our political leaders, chosen by the people, including those like Claude, and Theo, who were elected by acclamation time and time again, are all fraudsters, whose corruption knows no limit. Of course, the latter has been the prevalent narrative about St. Maarten for decades now in The Netherlands, resulting in epithets like “puinhoop” (mess) and “mafiosi” to describe the island.
Not that the Dutch haven’t tried in the past to clean up the so-called “mess”: as a matter of fact, they imposed “higher supervision” on St. Maarten in the 1990s but after years of this extraordinary measure, I guess we can safely conclude from the current insistence on integrity and prosecution, that they have failed miserably in their clean-up efforts. Dutch “experts” failed big time to run the airport effectively and it took St. Maarteners (drs. Eugene Holiday and Regina LaBega) to build it up into the best airport in the Caribbean before Hurricane Irma. The harbor, it must be pointed out also, grew by leaps and bounds under the stewardship of a St. Maartener (Mark Mingo), making the island one of the leading cruise destinations in the region.
Now, at a time when St. Maarten needs ALL its best minds to dig it out of the near complete destruction caused by the September 2017 storms, we’re back to where we were almost 30 years ago with the prosecution of the so-called “Big 4” (Claude, Ralph, Al and Frank), only this time, the individuals are being targeted one by one.
This is, therefore, NOT just about Theo. This is about taking over absolute control of St. Maarten – making it the next “S” in the BES Islands. How many more of our leaders shall they prosecute like this while we stand aside and look?