Opinion: Screening law

POSTED: 11/6/12 11:59 AM

Professor Jaime Saleh had a clear message for politicians in St. Maarten (and elsewhere, for that matter) when he discussed Curacao’s screening law. However, Saleh’s opinion that we do not need such a law seems to be based on wishful thinking and on the assumption that all politicians will behave with integrity because this is what they are supposed to do.
The reality is obviously different. Not all politicians behave with integrity. Curacao has the story of Anthony Godett (convicted for fraud and bribery in 2003 and imprisoned from July 2006 until March 12, 2007).
Godett refused to give up his membership of the Antillean parliament and of Curacao’s Island Council, claiming that he needed the money to pay his attorneys. During his trial he declared himself innocent and, for good measure, compared himself with the likes of Martin Luther, king, Nelson Mandela, Jesus Christ and the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Godett was initially sentenced to 1 year imprisonment with 3 months suspended. He went on appeal, where he met a fiercer punishment: 15 months of which 5 months suspended.
Should Godett have given up his political positions? Of course. But the fact is that he did not. Even better: he publicly proclaimed his ambition to become the Prime Minister of an independent Curacao.
St. Maarten has its own bad boy in the person of MP Louie Laveist. His trek through the courts started somewhere in 2008, and only recently the appeals court confirmed his conviction for taking bribes. His last option is another trip to the Supreme Court but even Laveist ought to know that this is useless. The case was there already once and it was only sent back to the appeals court based on a technicality.
Should Laveist have given up his position back in the day when he first came under suspicion, then was arrested, and subsequently taken to court? Of course. But the fact is that he did not.
There is a difference between being appointed as a minister and being elected as a member of parliament. For Laveist, the door to a political appointment is closed for the next three years, unless he goes to the Supreme Court, in which case a final ruling could arrive sometime in 2015 – and then he will be banned from office for three years.
The law gives judges in a limited number of cases the opportunity to take someone’s passive and active voting rights away. In Laveist’s case, this has not happened so formally there is nothing to stop him from sitting in parliament.
That things become awkward there every now and then is predictable. The handling of the BOB-legislation that regulates special tracking methods for law enforcement is just one example: after all, it was Laveist who became the subject of one of those methods (structural observation) and because at the time when this happened there was no legal basis for it, the court mitigated his punishment to such an extent that he does not have to spend any time in prison.
The Godett and the Laveist case show that politicians in our communities have a tendency to hang on to their seat, no matter what. The whole affair has cost Laveist voter support (in 2010 he lost more than 48 percent of the votes he won during the (2007 elections) and the court cases and their accompanying publicity have also been an emotional rollercoaster.
Only yesterday, Michael Ferrier gave Laveist a hint that he should act on Saleh’s statements (and give up his seat in parliament – but Ferrier did not explicitly write that). While Ferrier signed his brief letter to the editor with “St. Maarten resident” he is of course also the President of the Democratic Party that fell apart as a result of the Laveist-affair.
In short: when former Commissioner Maria Buncamper-Molanus was forced to step down after the Sky is the Limit scandal, and the party simply wanted to reappoint her, it needed Laveist’s vote. He gave it on the condition that Raphael Boasman be removed from his post at the Labor Office. After Buncamper was reappointed, Boasman remained at his post and that was the reason for the embattled Laveist to withdraw his support from the coalition. The DP never got over this fall from power and things even took a turn for the worse for the party when Theo Heyliger also jumped ship.
Apparently, Laveist learned from this whole affair that there isn’t a lot of integrity in politics anyway and that this is the reason why he simply stuck to his seat.
Does St. Maarten need a screening law similar to the one on Curacao? According to professor Saleh it is not necessary, but that position is based on the assumption that politicians will always do the honorable thing. The reality is: they don’t, and therefore such a law could serve St. Maarten in the future as well.
We have no illusions about such legislation: with the current makeup of the parliament nobody will even get the idea to put a draft-law modeled on Curacao’s screening law on the table.
That tells voters everything they need to know.

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