The Joint Court’s confirmation of a corruption sentence for suspended Member of Parliament (MP) Claudius “Toontje” Buncamper (see related story) raised questions about possible implications for the January 11 election. The number two candidate of Nation Opportunity Wealth (NOW) earned the seat for United St. Maarten Party (US party) four years ago, but went independent before his suspension – with salary – based on the original verdict.
In that sense Thursday’s ruling changed little, because one appeal option remains at the High Court in The Hague, which he immediately exercised. Consequently, until the conviction is irrevocable his current status in the legislature stays the same.
Buncamper can thus legally be on next month’s ballot and obviously plans to. If voted into office, he would have to be sworn in by the governor and subsequently again be suspended, making room for the next biggest vote-getter on his party’s list to become – at the taxpayers’ expense – a substitute MP, as is presently the case with Chanel Brownbill, currently a candidate for United People’s (UP) Party, on behalf of US party.
Should all this seem strange, that’s probably because it is. In many countries and certainly the Netherlands, politicians tend to step aside as soon as they are under investigation, let alone charged with or even found guilty of a relevant crime.
Not necessarily so in the Dutch Caribbean, as several examples also in Curaçao and Aruba have already shown. Credit the last Island Council of the former Island Territory of St. Maarten for including a provision in the Constitution of the new country that at least suspends MPs once officially declared a suspect and placed in pre-trial custody, the only such article in the kingdom.
That this ends up costing more to finance substitutes is a relatively small price to pay in the interest of of promoting integrity in public affairs. When it comes to electing – suspended or not – the people’s representatives, however, eligible voters have the final say.