Dutch MPs question Minister Duncan’s role in bribery scandal – Plasterk remains committed but excludes budget-support

POSTED: 04/17/13 1:37 PM

Van Raak bosmanTHE HAGUE / St. Maarten – Mafia, crooks, corruption and Duncan – those were the key words in a meeting of the permanent parliamentary committee Kingdom Relations in The Hague yesterday. While the agenda for the meeting contained seven topics, the committee-members jumped from the get-go on the hottest issue on their mind: corruption in St. Maarten. They questioned Justice Minister Roland Duncan’s role, while Kingdom Relations Minister Plasterk remained committed to the island with one exception: no more financial support.

The Ministers Plenipotentiary of St. Maarten, Curacao and Aruba – Mathias Voges, Roderick Pieters and Edwin Abath – attended the meeting as observers. Committee-members were allotted five minutes speaking time in the first round, and one minute in the second round, but that was more than enough for MPs Ronald van Raak (Socialist Party), Andre Bosman (VVD) and Sietse Fritsma (PVV) to unload their dissatisfaction about the way things are going in St. Maarten.

Van Raak noted that the government and Members of Parliament in St. Maarten are not prepared to work together with the Netherlands. “The minister wants to put our minds at ease about corruption in St. Maarten. He says that we have to rely on the local institutions in a country where the underworld and the upper-world are connected and where Justice Minister Duncan and Independent parliamentarian Patrick Illidge are possibly involved in dealing with permit for brothels.”

Van Raak wondered how he could trust “a minister Duncan who is investigating minister Duncan,” or how he could trust a country where the president of parliament says, “That we are jealous because they have a higher salary, where the minister of finance says that we do not grant black people to become rich, where the Minister Plenipotentiary says that there is nothing wrong, and where the prime minister says: Let them scream all they want until the day of damnation arrives?”

That was not all Van Raak had to say: “Why would we have to trust institutions over there if it appears that they do not have the intention to solve problems, or to work together. They come up with tricks to borrow money to build a new government administration building. It’s against the rules.”

Van Raak added that he has no idea whether the corruption investigation – into the Bada Bing bribery video – is progressing as it should. All this led up to the following remark: “What are we going to do with the Kingdom. We have been so stupid – not the SP, but others – to give these countries autonomy, while the Netherlands remains responsible.”

Van Raak said that he wants to get rid of the guarantee function in the Kingdom Charter. “St. Maarten has to deal with the crooks and make sure that they end up in the prison and not in the government. We have to intervene and put the house in order, or the minister has to say: the Netherlands cannot fulfill its responsibility. Then we have to move towards a commonwealth construction whereby there is no room anymore for dirty tricks.”

VVD-MP André Bosman said that he has confidence in the Public Prosecutor’s Office but that he questions the role of Justice Minister Duncan. “He has a say over money and over the police, and that way he is able to influence investigations. The separation of powers has been trampled. I want to know which steps St. Maarten is taking to improve its level of integrity.”

Bosman said that he does not want to part ways with the island. “Via article 43 we will always be involved. St. Maarten obtained autonomy, but it is a bit like living on your own but your mother comes along. How autonomous are you then?”

Van Raak interrupted Bosman saying that over the course of the years parliamentarians had asked many questions about corruption.”The answer was always: we don’t know anything because it is an autonomous country. But many official reports have been sent to the ministry about criminality and favoritism. I think that there is much more information available. Send those reports to the parliament so that we’re able to see whether we have been informed correctly.”

Bosman said that St. Maarten’s financial position is “worrisome” and he also expressed his concern about the role of the financial supervisor Cft. “A number of items in the budget is soft as butter and other items – like expenditures for rent and gas – have been left out. If I add it all up I arrive at a 20 million guilder deficit. Why then does the Cft approve that budget?”

PVV-MP Sietse Fritsma said that he is “bone-tired” of the mess in the Caribbean. “There is corruption, and parliamentarians are shamelessly filling their pocket. It is a banana republic on all levels. Money has disappeared in a bottomless pit. There is a deficit over 2012 and 2013 is not in order yet.”

Fritsma asked Minister Plasterk for a guarantee that the Dutch tax payer is not going to be held responsible. “We have to take leave of Curacao and St. Maarten as soon as possible. They are a disgrace for the Kingdom.”

Fritsma said he disagrees with the fact that the Netherlands is unable to step unilaterally out of the Kingdom. “It seems like the Netherlands does not have the right to self-determination. This only applies to the old colonies. If it is so that the Netherlands is forever tied to the islands, we have to move towards changing the stipulations in the UN-treaty.”

Pierre Heijnen (PvdA) contested that the Netherlands is the victim of the situation in St. Maarten and Curacao.”That is not true. The inhabitants are the victims. They have to endure that we’re calling them a banana republic, while the majority of the people is unable to do something about it.”

That remark triggered another interruption from Van Raak. “The PvdA has contributed to the bad constitutional structure. You are the cause of all this misery. Are you not ashamed to hold others responsible for it? There are a limited number of people over there that victimize the population. Bashing them from the Netherlands is not good for them.”

Van Raak referred once more to Finance Minister Tuitt’s remark that the Dutch don’t want black people to become rich. “And that while they are exploiting black girls from the Dominican Republic to enrich themselves,” he said.

Minister Plasterk said that he does not want to generalize. “But I do want to call people respectfully on things that are not okay.”

“Respect?” Fritsma interrupted. “If somewhere people are acting without respect it is on those islands.”

Van Raak added that he stands up for the people on the islands. “My criticism is always about people who do things that are not okay. I have always explained who I refer to with mafia-connections: Corallo, Duncan, and Mr. 10 percent Theo Heyliger.”

Minister Plasterk noted that the MPs are painting a very black picture of the islands. “There have also been positive developments. In some countries things are moving in the right direction.”

But Plasterk acknowledged that St. Maarten does not have its finances in order. “That could end with an instruction, I am not sure about that yet,” he said. “The Cft is also not satisfied with the situation in St. Maarten.”

Plasterk revealed that the Kingdom Council of Ministers had asked Prime Minister Wescot-Williams to conduct an integrity-investigation. “We have also asked for a strict screening of ministers for the next government,” he added.

About the Bada Bing bribery investigation the minister noted that the Public Prosecutor’s Office is “doing a good job” but that no suspects have been identified yet. “But in general I am concerned about the integrity of the administration in St. Maarten.”

Van Raak interrupted again: “I do not share the opinion that the institutions must be left to do their work. Statements make clear that there are no intentions to improve anything. Things cannot continue like this. We have to choose for a big spring cleaning, or we have to say that we are not able to handle it. In that case we have to distance ourselves, otherwise we keep muddling on and then the barge will sink.”

But Minister Plasterk did not want to hear about it: “It is not on that within the Kingdom one country is doing a big cleanup in another country. Letting go of the islands is not the government’s position.”

Article 123 of St. Maarten’s Constitution does not give politicians bullet proof protection against prosecution. This appears from Plasterk’s reaction to a remark by Pierre Heijnen. “Legally someone can be put on inactive duty through a general measure of the Kingdom administration,” he said. Later the minister added that a minister who is labeled a suspect will be placed on inactive duty immediately. “Based on information from Prime Minister Wescot-Williams I understand that in case of a conviction a minister will be removed from his function.”

While the Minister steered clear of individual cases (like Minister Duncan’s possible involvement in the Bada Bing bribery case) he made clear that the Dutch government will not support the budgets in St. Maarten or the other Kingdom-countries. “We have chosen for debt relief, but there will not be any new budget-support from the Netherlands,” he said. “Curacao and Aruba take that as their point of departure. In St. Maarten the discussion is still ongoing about 70 million in debt relief, but that window is closed. I have expressed this in St. Maarten and it has to be clear by now.”

At the request of Van Raak, Plasterk will check whether information provided to his ministry by Dutch civil servants that have worked in St. Maarten has indeed not been used for answers provided to questions posed by Members of Parliament.

Van Raak kept hammering on financial consequences for the Netherlands in case St. Maarten (or Curacao) gets into irreparable financial trouble.”Who is going to pay for that? The minister refuses to answer. But the Netherlands will have to pay if the underworld is part of the government, like Duncan in St. Maarten and Schotte in Curacao. St. Maarten is doing very badly and we have a structure-problem: the responsibilities are not put where they belong.”

At the end of the meeting, Minister Plasterk referred to article 43 of the Kingdom Charter as an emergency brake to be used when fundamental human rights and freedoms, the legal security good governance are at stake. That is different from situations wherein something happens that we are concerned about. If human rights are violated we have to intervene.”

 

 

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Dutch MPs question Minister Duncan’s role in bribery scandal - Plasterk remains committed but excludes budget-support by