Opinion: When politicians have to go

POSTED: 11/14/12 12:33 PM

Former Lt. Governor Dennis Richardson clarified that, based on his knowledge the law states that as long as an investigation is in progress you lose your position. However Richardson’s explanation did not seem to convince too many people, especially since he did not cite the specific legislation that he was referring to.

This is a paragraph from an article that appeared in Today on November 2, as part of a report about the symposium organized by the high councils of state. It’s almost like we didn’t know better – but we do.

The ordinance that regulates the prosecution of politicians and the relevant articles from the constitution have both been extensively highlighted on this page and also in articles in this newspaper.

Mr. Richardson, now a member of the Dutch Council of State for St. Maarten, probably assumed that all this was common knowledge – an understandable approach.

So how does this work again? On October 26, 2010 we wrote the following about this subject:

“The National Ordinance for the prosecution of politicians was approved by the Island Council of the Island Territory without public debate on October 8. The ordinance offered “more checks and balances” interim commissioner Roy Marlin said during that meeting. But the legislation, now handily available on a CD, actually offers first and foremost more protection against prosecution to politicians.

The ordinance severely limits the prosecution monopoly and use of the expediency principle for the public prosecutor’s office. The prosecution monopoly entails that the public prosecutor’s office, and no one else, decides about prosecution. The expediency principle gives the prosecutor’s office the option not to prosecute in cases where the general interest warrants this.

For prosecuting politicians, the prosecutor’s office does not have the prosecution monopoly, nor can it call on the expediency principle. In other words: the prosecutor’s office is not free to prosecute politicians, nor is if free to decide not to prosecute them.

The ordinance stipulates that the public prosecutor’s office cannot decide on its own to prosecute a politician. The order to prosecute has to come from the attorney general, and this order has to be reviews by the appeals court.

The reason to limit the freedom of the public prosecutor’s office is, according to the explanatory notes with the ordinance, to prevent that the decision to prosecute is taken lightly. To underline how well protected politicians are this way, the explanatory note adds this line: “The expectation is that an order by the attorney general at the appeals court to obtain an order to prosecute a politician will occur only in exceptional cases.”

In December 2010, the Bar Association blasted the ordinance, calling it feudal legislation.

Furthermore, and this is what Dennis Richardson was also referring to, the constitution contains articles (36 for ministers, 50 for members of parliament) that stipulate under which conditions these politicians have to vacate their positions. This applies when a politician has been irrevocably convicted for certain crimes, or when he (or she) ends up in pre-trial detention. Therefore, the fact that an investigation has been initiated against a politician is not a reason in itself for a forced leave of office.

Professor Jaime Saleh made clear at the symposium that integrity is “between the ears” – it is an attitude. In many countries – but not in the former Netherlands Antilles, not in Curacao and not in St. Maarten – politicians do “the honorable thing” and take a hike when their integrity is put into question. Until that attitude changes, we’ll need rules and legislation to provide the proper checks and balances for our politicians.



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Opinion: When politicians have to go by

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