Opinion: Personal choice

POSTED: 12/20/13 12:03 PM

Ask a politician a direct question and you will always get an indirect answer. That is why we fired an indirect question at Prime Minister Wescot-Williams and Finance Minister Hassink yesterday: what should a politician do when he (or she) becomes the subject of a criminal investigation?

Wescot-Williams noted that nothing is regulated by law, and that in the end the course of action is a personal choice for the politician involved. Minister Hassink expressed a similar sentiment. Up to a point, it is true that nothing has been regulated by law: this applies to politicians that are under investigation like – for instance – independent MP Patrick Illidge.

Illidge has the status of suspect. He has not been sentenced for any wrongdoing. The prosecution has just set another step in the direction of a court case – that’s all. However: that’s all? Illidge is suspected of bribery. The presumption of innocence applies here only in the legal sense. In the eyes of the public, Illidge is a dirty politician. Whether that opinion is right or wrong does not matter. Perception is also a reality.

We have referred before to the Dutch VVD-parliamentarian Matthijs Huizing. Earlier this month he left parliament of his own accord after police caught him driving while drunk. There is no law that says that drunk politicians have to take a hike in the Netherlands, but that did not stop Huizing from doing what people like to call “the right thing.” To prevent further embarrassment for his party, for parliament, for politics in general and probably also for his family, Huizing gave up his seat.

In Curacao, a majority of members of parliament is of the opinion that former Prime Minister Gerrit Schotte ought to stay away from parliament until the accusations against him have been cleared up. Schotte of course, is not going anywhere.

Such is the culture in the Caribbean: integrity is something for others. Louie Laveist is sitting in parliament with a bribery conviction to his name; Romain Laville is under investigation for alleged gun-threats against his former fellow faction member Jules James. Patrick Illidge is now the subject of a criminal investigation that may lead to prosecution – of the Common Court of Justice gives the green light for it in the next couple of weeks.

These three amigos have something in common: they are not going anywhere, at least not until the next elections.

At this point, nobody is able to claim that Illidge is guilty of anything. Did he receive an installment for a loan from Jaap van den Heuvel? Who are we to say that this is impossible, even though we figure that it is highly unlikely?

The rules of engagement for public figures like politicians are definitely different from the rules for ordinary citizens (by which we mean everyone who is not holding public office). Being under suspicion alone casts a shadow over their integrity and as such, this harms the image of their party, the parliament and politics in general. Illidge has no party of course, but the suspicions against him definitely damage his personal image as a politician and everything that follows from this. Everything depends on how the man himself handles the situation. That is clear by now: Illidge is not going anywhere while he should have at least stepped aside when the story broke in March.

The move by the solicitor-general to ask the Common Court of Justice for an order to prosecute Illidge fortifies the idea that there is enough evidence to take him to court. That Illidge is a member of the parliamentary committee for Justice is a painful touch that will do nothing to increase the electorate’s confidence in politics. That is something Illidge ought to think about: how his personal choice – so far – is gnawing at the roots of our constitutional state.

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