Opinion: Responsibility

POSTED: 07/25/13 1:07 PM

We live in a constitutional democracy. That is wonderful: we’ve got laws (plenty of them) and everybody is supposed to abide by them. The real power in our society is in the hands of just fifteen people – the members of our parliament. That’s the way it ought to be – at least this is what we have agreed on. If everybody plays by the rules, nobody gets hurt and those who break the rules receive their just punishment.

It sounds almost too beautiful to be true. That’s because it is. First of all, laws do not mean much if they are not enforced. Second of all, there is the little matter of wayward politicians.

Curacao seemed to be on the verge of its own awakening when the parliament approved a motion by coalition party Pais to hold politicians liable for fraud, mismanagement and embezzlement.

Now the Council of Advice has reacted, saying that the first responsibility to take action lies with … the parliament. If that position holds up, it means that parliamentarians become their own judges – a rather unhealthy situation that holds the potential of political prosecution after every change of government.

The reaction from Prime Minister Asjes? He is now asking the opinion of the parliament about the advice from the Advisory Council.

Pais-leader Rosaria is understandably disappointed because he had expected concrete recommendations about tightening the rules for the consequences of wrongdoing by members of parliament.

This issue that now plays in Curacao is yet another example of how parliamentarians are exploring the limits of the written law. There may be honor among thieves, but honor among parliamentarians is quite a different story. It also seems to be culturally defined: in most Western-European countries, politicians immediately take a hike when they are under suspicion. Dutch MP Jan Houwers is the latest example. In the Caribbean, politicians hang on to their positions for dear life, even in the face of the most obvious proof of wrongdoing.

Curacao is taking steps in the right direction, for sure, but what is mostly needed is a change of mentality. Even a rudimentary understanding of the lines politicians should not cross would be helpful.

It is interesting though that the initiative taken in Curacao has not inspired politicians in St. Maarten to follow suit.

The fact that embezzlement and fraud are criminal act may seem a comforting thought. The reality is however that these issues are not high on the list of priorities of the prosecutor’s office. Crimes against life, armed robberies and youth issues are deemed more important, so investigations and the prosecution of politicians take a back seat. Given the limited capacity law enforcement has to work with, this is up to a point understandable, but it does not exactly encourage politicians to behave the way they should.

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