Published On: Fri, Sep 12th, 2014

Can alleged criminal members of parliament stay on the job?

Jacob Gelt DekkerOn suspicion of committing a criminal offense, the Public Prosecutor of Curacao has the authority to investigate, prosecute, arrest and indict any person of our society, including members of parliament. It remains up to the Courts to find such a person guilty, or not.

Prosecutor’s discretion to take a case, or drop it, is not always transparent, but decisions can be challenged in Appellate Court.

Several members of parliament feel uncomfortable with colleagues under investigation and recently proposed changes in the law and the Constitution to force such member to step down.

The trigger seems to be the investigation of former PM, Gerrit Schotte (MFK), who is alleged to have received illegal election campaign contributions. So far, he has not been charged with any wrongdoings.

Curacao voters have traditionally been very tolerant of predatory and criminal politicians, especially those who are perceived to be defenders of their community interests. About ten years ago, Anthony Godett, leader of the FOL, was convicted of corruption and accepting pay offs, but he never gave up his seat in the Island Council, not even when he served his sentence, and returned from jail triumphantly, claiming a powerful post as Commissioner. Curacao has a long list of indicted and convicted politicians. It has caused little indignation, or shame, and is perceived as part of the political process.

Politicians’ use of he Public Prosecutor’s office, as a tool for political games is common on the island. Nothing seems easier than eliminating opponents by filing criminal charges against them. Fortunately, usually the Prosecutor shies away from becoming an extension of politicians, but for him it is not always possible to stay out of that public arena.

In media reactions to the cry for parliamentary exclusion, some politicians made a lot of noise and claimed that, no matter what, the will and choice of the voters should be respected, above all, meaning, members of parliament under investigation should not leave their post.

These politicians conveniently forget that members of parliament on Curacao are not elected in general elections, but appointed by their party. The electorate votes for political parties, no matter what the pretense, and who fills the ranks of the party list, is up to the discretion of these political parties. Thus, the screening of members of parliament is a party matter.

India, the largest democracy in the world, has about 30% of its members of parliament under criminal investigation, and amongst them, at least twenty for murder. Curacao, one of the smallest democracies in the world, appears not to be much different but may take a new route all together…

Written by Jacob Gelt Dekker - Opinion Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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