Opinion: Integrity Investigations of the St. Maarten Government

POSTED: 09/30/13 1:12 PM

The way we understand it so far is that St. Maarten will now be blessed with two integrity investigations. Oh wait, there is a difference: Transparency International will do a national integrity system assessment and whoever the governor decides to hire will do an integrity investigation.

One may well wonder what the result of these exercises will be. Politicians will most likely ignore them both and go about their business. If Transparency International really hurries up, it will be able to present its report just before next year’s elections. When the governor’s investigation will be completed is anybody’s guess.

In the meantime, we have heard quite some suggestions to help these investigations along. One would be to use a cattle prod to kick the National Detective Agency – the Landsrecherche – into high gear. What we hear so far is that this department is operating in extremely low gear that comes precariously in the neighborhood of doing absolutely nothing.

Well, these are stories of course and we’re not able to back them up, so maybe this is unfair. However: we do remember that there are a number of tickling cases that have appeared on the radar since 10-10-10 that just seem to be going absolutely nowhere.

Remember the embezzlement at the Tourist Bureau? Until now we have of course to refer to this little matter as the alleged embezzlement, because there has been no court case and, as far as we now, no investigation has taken place into the premise that politicians (Independent MP Frans Richardson was mentioned in this context) dipped into the state cookie jar to appropriate travel funds they were not entitled to.

Then there is the little matter of police officers who sold their votes for $300 a pop to the United People’s party before the elections in 2010. The police have presented a report about this to the prosecutor’s office that neatly parked it on the desk of the National Detective Agency where claims of understaffing have made sure that this investigation went nowhere either.

Ah, and then there is of course the infamous Buncamper-affair. Remember how Maria Buncamper-Molanus and her husband Claudius were caught selling the economic ownership of a piece of government land they held in long lease for a pretty penny to a friend they wanted to “help”? Maybe that’s why the price they charged was just $3 million.

A remarkable story, because there is a notarial deed, of course with the signature of the inevitable Francis Gijsbertha on it that states that the Buncampers received – if we remember correctly – $1.6 million in cash and that the rest would be paid in handsome monthly installments.

The notary is these days in the hot seat again because he fooled International Financial Planning Services (IFPS) into believing it bought a piece of the Caravanserai property mortgage free. Now it turns out that the purchase is worthless, that the bank will auction it and that IFPS has lost its money. Unfortunately for notary Gijsbertha, IFPS is a company linked to casino-boss Francesco Corallo. We would not sleep peacefully anymore after pulling such a stunt.

But back to the Buncamper-case. The prosecutor’s office has said that it will do this investigation this year – so the next couple of months should be exciting, especially because Buncamper-Molanus said during her last performance in parliament as Minister of Public health that ‘no money had changed hands.” There is at least one liar in this equation: the notary who wrote the deed, or the former minister, but we now have to trust that the investigators at the National Detective agency are going after the truth.

Then there is of course the entanglement of former Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto with the law. The Piranha-investigation, in which Roberto G. is also a suspect, is about money laundering, fraud and forgery. Earlier reports suggested that the case was coming to court after the summer – which is about now.

What else? Oh, the Orca-investigation. The prosecutor’s office likes to use the names of big fish as code name for its case files but so far it has resisted the temptation to label one as marlin.

The Orca-investigation ought to shed light on the wheeling and dealing of Independent MP Patrick Illidge. Did he accept a bride from Bada Bing owner Jaap van den Heuvel? Did he just cash in an installment of a loan? Did former Justice Minister Roland Duncan have anything to do with it? UP-leader Theo Heyliger? Former Economic Affairs Minister Romeo Pantophlet? We don’t have the answers, but we figure they will come to light one way or the other: through the work of our National Detective Agency or through the governor’s integrity-investigation.

And then there are of course the antics of former Justice Minister Roland Duncan. This newspaper established without a shadow of a doubt that the minister was deeply involved in the prostitution business while he was holding office. Prime Minister Wescot-Williams once dismissed these stories as rumors. Remarkably, not a single politician saw reason to ask questions about Duncan’s link to prostitution. All members of the second Wescot-Williams cabinet kept mum as well, thinking Agatha Christie style: least said, soonest mended.

One last issue then, to close of this tantalizing list: the fiscal deal with the former owners of the American University of the Caribbean. While Finance Minister Maarten Hassink understandably does not want to burn his fingers on revealing details about an individual tax payer, this newspaper has established what went down: the former university-owners, the Tien-family, clinched an extremely favorable tax-deal of $7.2 million, whereas the sale of the university alone for $235 million ($200 million in goodwill, the rest in real estate) entitled the tax man to a payday of $50 million.

Many people will well wonder – as do we – who benefited from this incredible deal apart from the Tien-family. The question is of course whether this will ever come to light and whether it still matters at the moment it does.

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