We can only help the poor if we also tackle the corruption

Theo Heyliger has been sentenced to five years in prison for taking millions in bribes and money-laundering. Theo gave his car keys to consultant Ronald Maasdam, who “mediated” on behalf of all kinds of construction companies, including the Dutch company Volker Construction (Volker Stevin). Maasdam put dollars in an envelope, folded it in a newspaper and put it in the car. Theo Heyliger is not just any politician, he is still the big man behind the current government.

  The same government that the Netherlands has to cooperate with to combat the corona crisis in St. Maarten. The Netherlands has to lend hundreds of millions to Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten, because the islands are out of money. Before we do this, however, the Dutch Parliament wants guarantees that this money will not end up in the wrong pockets.

  Politicians such as Theo Heyliger have made large profits, but have neglected the island. For example, the prison is a terrible place that does not meet the most basic human rights. It is ironic that Heyliger is locked up for five years in a prison that he himself neglected so much. That he has been convicted is the result of an investigation into the connection between politics (the upperworld) and the criminal (underworld) on the island.

  After Hurricane Irma the Netherlands allocated 600 million euros to help St. Maarten recover, but the reconstruction is dramatic. The course of events surrounding the airport is typical – 100 million euros was made available and Schiphol Airport was prepared to help rebuild the airport. A great offer for an island that is so dependent on tourism. The only requirement that the Netherlands set was that the money would be well-spent and not end up in the wrong pockets. Subsequently, local politicians suddenly tried to make this project fail.

  The Netherlands now has to lend hundreds of millions to Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten again, because coronavirus pandemic has hit these countries hard. State Secretary Raymond Knops made reasonable demands for this, that the politicians also need to pitch in and that the rich people on the island need to pay taxes. Members of Parliament in St. Maarten, the smallest country in the Kingdom, earn more money than politicians in the Netherlands. In fact, they have the highest salaries of all Parliaments in the Kingdom.

  All political parties in the Netherlands, from coalition to opposition and from “right” to “left”, on Wednesday supported the loans to Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten. But all parties also wanted to set strict requirements. State Secretary Knops accepted a previous proposal from me to demand discounts on the fees of the politicians on the islands. This also received broad support. The reactions from St. Maarten were predictable. Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs called the demands an “indecent proposal” and “a slap in the face” by the Netherlands.

  Still, I know that people in St. Maarten are happy that the Netherlands is finally pushing forward. For far too long, a small elite has been able to enrich themselves, at the expense of the poor on the island. The people keep getting slapped in the face by their own politicians, because of corruption and favouritism. I want to help the poor on the island and that is only possible if we also tackle the corruption. Hopefully, with the conviction of Theo Heyliger that finally started.


Ronald van Raak

~ Ronald van Raak is a Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament for the Socialist Party, and is a member of the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations. ~