Opinion: Blanket statement

POSTED: 01/17/14 12:27 PM

The inter-parliamentary Kingdom consultation (Ipko) in Curacao was a peaceful affair, or so participants wanted journalists to believe when they held a press conference at the end of the exercise on January 10. But it did not take long before stories began circulating about the behavior of United People’s party MP Johan Leonard who – so the stories went – had blown his top when the issue of integrity came up.

When we addressed this with Jeroen Recourt, the leader of the Dutch delegation in Curacao, we received an answer so diplomatic that we felt we were being railroaded. We asked Recourt, but also André Bosman and Ronald van Raak what exactly had happened and how they had reacted to it. Up to this day, Bosman and Van Raak have not reacted to our email. Recourt did.

This is what he wrote. “Several members spoke about this subject. Everybody does this his own way. This also applies to Mister Leonard. Reactions were possible and they were also given. All this within the order of the meeting, after which the consultation continued in a constructive manner between all parties. That is the upside of this Ipko. It was possible to discuss sensitive topics in an open and constructive manner without going on about reproaches.”

Van Raak opted not to answer our email, but he tipped his hand in a letter he sent for some reason to the Antilliaans Dagblad in Curacao. This is what he wrote.

“Aruba is on the verge of the financial abyss, and it does not seem to be able to get out of this on its own. In Curacao there is a lot of fear after the political murder of Helmin Wiels; the principals who gave the order for the murder still have not been found. The Netherlands has started a large-scale investigation into politicians in Sint Maarten, an island that is afflicted by corruption. This appears from the video about Patrick Illidge, a parliamentarian who entered the brothel Bada Bing in shorts and flip-flops to collect – under instructions from the Minister of Justice – money for permits for illegal prostitutes.

This week I was in Curacao for a conference of parliamentarians of the countries in the Kingdom. On Tuesday, we spoke about corruption. Many politicians on the islands are paid by criminal organizations; the mafia has a lot of influence on the government. My question whether it would not be good to make the financiers of politicians public, led to a lot of clamor, especially by politicians from Sint Maarten. One parliamentarian loudly demanded apologies, another one said that he was really clean and a third one maintained that politicians in Sint Maarten are quite honest. Patrick Illidge – who still has not been sentenced – was nodding approvingly.

I was waiting for the usual squabbling, but then something special happened. A number of politicians from the islands began to tell about their problems with party-financing, the vulnerability of the government and the influence of criminal organizations.

For the first time in the ten years that I am involved in these kinds of discussions. I had the feeling that we were not performing a cheap theatre play, but that we were having an open and honest discussion. I got that feeling even more on Wednesday when the debate was about the sensitive topic of racism.

Normally this discussion would result in endless statements about the discrimination of Antilleans in the Netherlands; this time a number of politicians spoke openly about discrimination on their island. In a short time, we overcame much sensitivity.

The Kingdom is in a deep crisis, but that crisis can also be wholesome. The population of the Netherlands but also the population of the islands has had more than enough of corrupt politicians. These politicians cannot get away with everything anymore in the islands because the population is becoming increasingly critical. A lot of money has disappeared, a lot of energy has been wasted but maybe we still won something.

Whether the Kingdom will be able to survive in the current form is something I still doubt. But if it remains possible in the future to speak in all honesty about problems, all hope may not be lost.”

While Van Raak’s analysis in itself is maybe not too far off the mark, his underlying arguments about Sint Maarten show once more his serious disregard for the facts. This approach results in a distorted picture. Let’s start with Van Raak’s statement that Patrick Illidge went to Bada Bing in March at the orders of former Justice Minister Roland Duncan to collect money for permits for illegal prostitutes.

It is a performance in itself to stuff so many mistakes in one sentence. First of all, Illidge did not go to Bada Bing at the orders of Roland Duncan – at least, this has not been established. Bada Bing owner Jaap van den Heuvel has said in an interview with this news-paper that he went there at the request of UP-leader Theo Heyliger.

And did he really go to collect money for permits for illegal prostitutes? Prostitution is formally illegal in St. Maarten, but it is condoned and the government even has a prostitution policy. Under those circumstances, it is a bit tough to maintain that prostitutes are illegal. And who is giving permits for illegal prostitutes? It just does not make sense.

So far, we do not know why Van den Heuvel paid money to Illidge. Both parties maintain that it was an installment for a loan; justice thinks it was a bribe, but the jury is still out on that one.

Then there is Van Raak’s blanket statement that “many politicians in the islands are paid by criminal organizations.” It is a statement from the category “all gypsies are thieves,” “all blacks are lazy” and “all whites are slave drivers.”

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