Opinion: Interesting times (Screening of Ministers)

POSTED: 10/3/11 8:16 PM

Curacao is moving towards interesting times now that the Rosenmöller Committee integrity report has split the coalition. Pueblo Soberano leader Helmin Wiels is screaming blue murder as usual, but MFK-faction leader Dean Rozier is showing a lot of common sense by supporting the establishment of a committee of wise men.

That committee will have to investigate the integrity of Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte, Finance Minister George Jamaloodin and Economic Affairs Minister Abdul Nasser El Hakim.

The Rosenmöller Committee has been careful to stress the importance of Curacao solving its own problems. Hence the report’s title: Do it Yourself. The last thing anybody wants – in Willemstad or The Hague – is an integrity-investigation ordered, executed and controlled by the Dutch government.

The report has made clear that things went wrong from the get go. The cleverly chosen election date (September 27 of last year) left insufficient time for the Security Service to investigate candidate-ministers. This lead to the unique situation that the Schotte-cabinet took office while this investigation was still incomplete.

It didn’t help that a day after Governor Frits Goedgedrag urged the Security Service on October 26 of last year to complete the integrity investigation into the new ministers Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte moved to suspend Edsel Gumbs, the head of the Security Service.

Based on documents the Rosenmöller Committee examined it appears that the names of several ministers show up in dozens of reports to the Center for Unusual Financial Transactions MOT; that several ministers have significant arrears in payments for taxes and social premiums; and that several ministers are suspected of criminal acts like embezzlement.

One of the tantalizing micro-crimes concerns Economic Affairs Minister el Hakim. The report states that he negotiated a favorable bunkering arrangement with cruise companies for a small price: of every liter of fuel the vessels bunker in Curacao, one penny goes to the minister.

There is of course more going on. The report also mentions the attempt by the Schotte-government to get Rudolf Baetsen on the board of the Central Bank. Baetsen is the Chief Financial Officer of the Atlantis World Group in St. Maarten, a company that is involved in the mother of all financial scandals in Italy.

The Rosenmöller Committee established that Baetsen did not fit the function profile for chairman of the board and that his nomination created the impression that it had been inspired by other motivations. We could think of a few: Schotte visited St. Maarten to support the political campaign of vice Prime Minister Theo Heyliger last year; there are strong indications that Atlantis is one of the financial backers of Heyliger’s campaign; another rumor is that Baetsen was Schotte’s man for the position so that he could approve the establishment of a new bank, designed to manage capital generated in the casino industry. The 338-page report contains, according to Helmin Wiels, a lot of rumors like this. That should not be a reason to get upset. It ought to be a reason to stand squarely behind the establishment of a Committee of Wise Men with a mandate to separate rumors from facts.

The government of Curacao has been seriously damaged by all the conflicts it has been involved in ever since October 10 of last year. It is in the interest of the community to put all those affairs to rest – one way or the other. Investors will not have a lot of confidence in a country that is managed by embezzling ministers, or even by ministers who are suspected of this. All investors know that in such a country the price of investment goes up, more often than not by ten percent.

In the end these practices benefit politicians at the receiving end of bribes but it robs a community’s economy of its natural desire and ability to grow. In the end, all but a few people lose.

This brings us to the question how the government in St. Maarten holds against the scandals in Curacao. How did the screening go here? To the best of our knowledge, it never did. At no time was information made public that our ministers passed an investigation by the local security service with flying colors. The only thing that did happen is that ministers submitted a letter to the Prime Minister with information about side jobs and their financial situation. The Prime Minister herself submitted such a letter to Governor Holiday.

That Minister El Hakim apparently pilfers one penny from every liter of fuel cruise ships bunker in Willemstad is nothing new. It happens in St. Maarten with all fuel. The difference with Curacao is that we do not know who receives this penny. The price for unleaded gas and for diesel includes a 1.02 cent levy that is recorded as agent margin.

The unleaded gas consumption in St. Maarten is roughly 4.5 million liters per month, so the unknown recipient of this margin cashes more than $300, 000 a year. An analysis of the gas prices this newspaper made in August of 2009 showed that, after all known cost components are added to the price of fuel at the refinery there was still a 27.5 cent gap between the required unleaded gas price and what consumers pay at the pump. Where do those 14, 850, 000 guilders (roughly $8.2 million) go?

Because all eyes are focused on Curacao nobody seems to be even thinking about the possibility that there is plenty of stuff in St. Maarten that needs investigating as well. We have one leg up over Willemstad though: our reporting about the Buncamper-Molanus land scandal has led to the departure of this minister.

However, the Buncamper-Molanus case shows that, had proper screening taken place, she would not have made the cut and she would have never become a minister in the first place. All this truly makes us wonder why the Kingdom is spending so much effort on Curacao while it leaves St. Maarten to its own devices.

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