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MP Claudius Buncamper breaks his silence, Give me the opportunity to defend myself.

claudiusbuncamper18042020My wife and I were prosecuted for over 10 years by the Sint Maarten Public Prosecutor’s Office in the so-called BUMO case. During all this time and even despite the fact that the reporter Mr. Hilbert Haar chief editor of back the Today Newspaper wrote and published in excess of 50 very negative and factually largely incorrect articles about my wife and me, we never went public. This decision was based on a firm belief that legal cases are fought in court and not in the public media. Our decision was also based on respect for and trust in the Sint Maarten court system.

Much has happened ever since.

Ultimately, seven of the eight charges brought against us by the Sint Maarten Public Prosecutor’s Office were dismissed by the Court of Appeals. What remained was a sentence for not having filled out a tax return form correctly. Therefore, we received a fine and community service. Mind you, the tax return form in question was filled out and submitted by a European Dutch Accountant. A professional and previous employee of the Sint Maarten Tax Inspectorate Office, whose independent services years after his tenure with the Sint Maarten Tax Inspectorate Office were contracted to file same taxes correctly. This specific matter is now subject of cassation with the Supreme Court in the Netherlands. For us, it’s at the end of the day also a principle matter.

After thoroughly considering all matters, with ample experience gained over the last 10+ years, also a much better understanding of how our Courts and the stakeholders/organizations within the justice system function, complete silence exercised by us in the past is simply no longer a realistic or sensible option. Openness and transparency are needed to try to prevent repeated structural misuse of powers by those with prosecuting authority. As a member of the Sint Maarten Parliament and a Sint Maarten man designated by a large group of Sint Maarten citizens to represent the interest of Sint Maarten, I moreover owe all constituents an explanation.

To understand what is presently going on we have to go back to the Bumo case.

Several severe violations by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the Bumo case
The court’s records show, and I challenge the Public prosecutor’s Office to disprove any of the following statements, that during the Bumo case the following severe violations were committed by members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and/or the Kingdom Collaboration Team, popularly known as RST:
a. a public prosecutor took and used confidential information during a house search and, when confronted with this violation, initially denied everything trying to hide matters;
b. the Public Prosecutor’s Office vehemently tried to prevent the Public Prosecutor in question to be heard under oath by the Judge of Instruction, on irregularities committed during the investigation;
c. a member of the RST made up a statement, which had to be made by law expeditiously after a certain event, five months thereinafter. Worse, she used the content of the statement of a European Dutch Technical Assistant and Investigator working for the Sint Maarten Inspectorate of Taxes, to draft her own statement and to make sure that the stories were coordinated. This all was corresponded in writing with the Public Prosecutor who supervised and as such was very much aware of all these activities. It happened under her watching eye;
d. when the Court finally permitted the interrogation of the Public Prosecutor and also of a member of the RST, the truth became apparent, namely that not only were several violations committed, but that they seriously tried to shove them under the carpet;
e. the Public Prosecutor was subsequently removed from the case by the back then Chief Public prosecutor and not too long thereinafter returned back to the Netherlands;
f. the member of the RST transferred to Curaçao;
g. Nobody was however held accountable, let alone punished, for anything;
h. a hearing by the Judge of Instruction of an accountant who gave tax advice and filed tax return forms was interrupted, as per the request of the Public Prosecutors Office, to allow this accountant to go back to his files and get the pertinent required data. However, immediately thereinafter and before this accountant could be heard again by the Judge of Instruction, members of the RST approached and interrogated the accountant separately. The result, a vague and unclear statement and we never got the opportunity to finish hearing the accountant by the Judge of Instruction because the accountant shortly thereinafter left for the Netherlands.

 After approximately six (6) years of being allegedly investigated, during which time my wife voluntarily stepped down as a Minister and wasn’t able to apply for various functions because of screening, my wife took the initiative and challenged the Public prosecutor’s Office in Court to either put up or shut up. The Court gave the Public Prosecutor’s Office a short deadline to if wanted file charges and later rapidly filed eight charges. This, following an obviously barely any and also as such a corrupt investigation.

During all this time, the good name and reputation of my wife and I as Sint Maarten citizens and public servants were however seriously disparaged. The Today Newspaper most certainly didn’t devote 50 articles to correct our good name and reputation after the verdict of the Court of Appeals. More explicitly, to explain that at the end of the day we were found guilty of having filled out a tax declaration form incorrectly, because of a very technical interpretation of whether or not something constituted taxable income. An interpretation for which my wife did not only seek and pay for professional tax advice. A tax return form that was filled out and filed by the same accountant.

Why a new investigation?
Buncampers must be found guilty of something. How else does the Public Prosecutor’s Office justify an intensive investigation, multiple house searches, and a lot of investigative measures, all during a time span extending 10 years and certainly all with heavy price tags? This, also accommodate the lifestyle of the European Prosecuting Bodies on Sint Maarten.

In April 2018 it was already pretty obvious, specifically because of various witness statements from experts who testified before the Judge of Instruction, that the verdict of the Court of First Instance would be reversed by the Court of Appeals. It should as such not come as a surprise to anyone that the Public Prosecutor’s Office decided to that month commence a new investigation against my wife and me. The new investigation was however started by the Public Prosecutor’s office in Curacao and was this time led by the TBO. Thus, not the Sint Maarten Public Prosecutor’s Office, not even the RST, and certainly not the Sint Maarten National Detectives Team.

I’m in possession of emails wherein the St. Maarten Prosecutor’s Office states that this isn’t their case, but a so-called TBO case. Thus, whilst the Government of St. Maarten didn’t file any charges against me, a TBO Prosecutor in Curacao decides to start an investigation on me in July 2018. The irony of the matter is that he subsequently tried to justify this investigation by referring to so-called ‘tips’ received firstly in August 2018.

Check the date’s people. I have the above in writing from them.

As a civil servant back then, the normal procedure would have been for the National Detectives to conduct and in any case lead any investigation. This has always been the norm, but norms must give way to preconceived purposes: “ targeting opinionated Sint Maarten people, certainly leaders”.

Problems and fires on the Sint Maarten Dump
For 15 years (from the year 2000 till 2015) a Sint Maarten company that is the daughter of a large Dutch Multinational managed the Dump. During that time there were several fires on the Dump and large ones in 2011 and 2014. During that period regretfully even cost people their lives. I however never saw the Public Prosecutor’s Office investigate anything. Why should it, the Dump was being managed by European Dutch people who always acts correctly … right?

In 2011, Government representatives met with members of the Sint Maarten Public Prosecutors Office at the Governor’s office. The Sint Maarten Public Prosecutors Office went it's merry way thereinafter, as there were no extra-budgetary monies to do anything additional at the landfill and everyone acknowledged that nothing more could be done without funding.

In 2015 the Sint Maarten Government held a public tender for the management of the Dump. This time the locally owned company Roberto & Son won the bid. Its offer was at least 1.5 million guilders lower than the other one of the same daughter company of a Dutch Multinational. However, now that locals managed the Dump for nota bene significantly less money than what the European Dutch wanted, the exact same problems for years at the Dump were suddenly rooted in corruption. This is self-evident or isn’t it…. This sudden obvious corruption, in any case, required another round of intensive and expensive investigation.

So, it came to be that in April 2018 during the presentation “The way Forward” about the Dump and waste handling in St. Maarten, the Sint Maarten Public Prosecutor’s Office in its presentation started alluding to criminal activities ongoing at the Dump. No stone was subsequently left unturned in an effort to substantiate this statement.

I had to be investigated because the Public Prosecutor’s Office claims that the tender procedure won by Robelto & Son, which once again bid a whole Naf 1.500.000 lower per year than the daughter of the European Dutch Multinational, was rigged. I profited therefrom because the accountant firm of my wife rendered independent accounting services to Robelto & Sons and my son worked for a while for this company.

The Public Prosecutors Office is however in possession of a whole lot of seized files and documents that all clearly show that both my wife’s accounting firm and my son worked hard for their keep. How I profited or could have profited, from their sweat and hard labor, remains elusive. But then again, are Sint Maarten people nowadays even entitled to earn a decent living on their Island? Or should all jobs and nice assignments continue to exclusively go to European Dutch Companies and firms?

Mind you, till this day I have to yet learn or understand how the Public Prosecutors Office thinks that I could have realized that the bid was won by Robelto & Sons. It’s unclear to me if it even understands that there is a Council of Ministers that decides thereon as per advice from the Secretary-General of VROMI, which decision is subsequently sent for approval to the Governor. Somewhere, somehow, I nevertheless magically controlled the minds and decisions making of everyone involved.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office clearly realizes the weakness, not to say ridiculousness, of its assertions, because it decided to lay down more anchors. This, by also claiming that I profited from the bid awarded to Robelto & Sons by not exercising the correct governmental control and supervision on their works; that responsibility is suddenly exclusively vested in my person.

This all whilst it's clear as a day that exactly the same governmental control and supervision was always exercised. Thus, also during the 15 years tenure of the daughter of the European Dutch Multinational. But back then this governmental supervision and control were adequate. More so, all stakeholders including the Public Prosecutor’s Office established in 2011 that nothing more could be done without significantly more money than Sint Maarten clearly simply didn’t have. Speaking of double standards…..

Since my wife and I were once again both suspects, considering what we experienced the first time around when being investigated and our codified right not to have to testify against one and other, we repeatedly asked the TBO Public Prosecutor to be questioned by a Judge of Instruction. This, instead of a member of the TBO. We also asked time in and again, lastly in February 2020, to hear all the other suspects or so-called witnesses before the same Judge of Instruction in an open and transparent manner.

The TBO Public Prosecutor however structurally rejected these requests, without by the way given any reason. Certainly, no plausible reason was ever given.

Request to prosecute me as a member of the Sint Maarten Parliament
Same TBO Public Prosecutor, now with the hat on as the designated representative of the Attorney General, adopted the standpoint that I cannot see absolutely any document in the investigation that his office has allegedly been conducting from April- July 2018 and as such for over two years.

I must now defend myself as a Sint Maarten Parliamentarian in the procedure wherein the Court of Appeals will decide if I can be prosecuted, without insight in any of the investigating documents, with exception of generic so alleged summary report made by the TBO. There is no way even for me to check if what is stated in the by the way very brief summary corresponds with what witnesses (names mentioned) said or didn’t say.

This, whilst a few persons approached and informed me that they were questioned by members of the TBO who told then in no uncertain terms that unless they testified in a very specific manner, tax charges would be brought up against them, they would be made a suspect or even possibly arrested. One of these persons had his lawyer confirm same to the TBO Officers (Public Prosecutor), which confirmation not surprisingly remained unanswered till this date.

The other one, who also happens to be a suspect in the same investigation, apparently decided to say after approximately six previous statements to the TBO that he gave me a bribe. The same person however consistently stated to other persons, and luckily some are coming forward, that he never gave me a dime, but was unduly pressured in stating that.

Still, the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General refuses to have everyone heard by the Judge of Instruction.
Worse, he refuses to give me access to and insight in absolutely any document or alleged finding of the ‘investigation’.

Great was my surprise and dismay when the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals Committee who handles my case decided to honor the request of the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General not to give me or my defense attorney absolutely any, but any, data.

Consequently, I am the only person with a Public Function with Authority in the Dutch Caribbean Islands whose prosecution is being sought, who has absolutely no access to anything in the so-called investigation file but is still expected to defend himself against the unknown.

The other great irony in this matter is that when first asked by the same Presiding Justice why the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General doesn’t want me to have access to the file, “investigation Interest’ was stated by Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General as the reason. Be aware, same Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General started contending suddenly, and after more than two years of alleged investigation that he needs more time to investigate me. That begs the question of why then already demand to prosecute me if you apparently need more time to investigate me.

When asked, again by same Presiding Justice, how long he would need to finish investigating me, the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General said 1 week. Nevertheless, approximately three weeks thereinafter at the end of July 2020, his request to withhold all documents from me was honored by the Presiding Justice.

Supported by also expert legal advice from the Netherlands, I thereinafter asked the Presiding Justice to recuse herself from the case because of an obvious lack of impartiality and because she had during the process steered too much in the direction of the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General. Also, because our legislator only sanctions withholding certain specific data, and not the whole file.

My request was denied by the Court of Appeals that, although the law allows for me to file the same request even during an ongoing hearing, deemed that it had to be filled immediately after the Presiding Justice took the disputed decision at the end of July 2020 and not two months thereinafter. The Court of Appeals moreover, redundantly, stated that it would not have honored the petition anyway, because it’s basically impossible to state that justice is not impartial, based on a preliminary decision taken during a decision. I was also told that it was not apparent that the disputed decision could ultimately negatively impact the outcome of the case and or reflect in any way shape or form on the final outcome therefrom.

My arguments, that:
a. the decision of the Presiding Justice is not a preliminary one, but a final decision in a closed hearing procedure;
b. there will possibly not be another procedure if prosecution permission is not granted; and
c. the consequence of that decision, namely me having to defend myself against the unknown is very severe and also as such most certainly reflects on the case and the possible outcome thereof,
were all basically immediately dismissed. Actually, they didn’t even warrant a motivated reaction, because none was given.

A new hearing was scheduled in my case for November 13th, 2020, a full four months after the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General stated that he only needed one week to allegedly conclude his investigations. Both before and during the hearing, I asked for at least a blackout version of the investigative file and I also asked the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals Committee to confirm, whether or not they would be possible using the content of documents completely unbeknownst to me in their decision making.

The Presiding Justice confirmed on November 12th, 2020, that the Court of Appeals would, if wanted, use the content of documents that are being withheld from me for decision-making. Same Presiding Justice furthermore refused my renewed request at the hearing for access to the file and thus data and even for a file wherein the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General blacks out matters that he doesn’t want me to read.

I was told that the one week that the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General at the hearing of November 13th, 2020, termed a ‘fictive’ week, was one week after the Court of Appeals takes a decision on the request to prosecute me. So, in reality, an indefinite period of time that in theory could range from days to years. Not a preset amount of time, calculated considering the time needed for performing alleged specific investigation actions.
Talking about the rigging matters….

The Presiding Justice also stated that from inception the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General had requested for one week till after decision making by the Court of Appeals, meaning in short, that I am under no circumstances, even if the alleged further investigation is concluded before the hearing, to get access to be file before the hearing. Also logically meaning that under no circumstance will I have the opportunity to learn the content of documents that can be used in the decision-making against me, before my hearing.

By the way, it was as per the Presiding Justice obvious that this was what the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General had requested from inception because that was also written subsequently by same Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals in a report of the first hearing.
Whilst, that piece of information that it was indeed written is correct, rest assured that this statement was never made. Instead, the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General was too busy during the first hearing backpedaling on his statement that none of the lawyers of the other suspects in the case had ever requested for any data in the years wherein investigation was conducted. The backpedaling and factual misrepresentation started after I told him that the attorney of one of the other lawyers with whom I met the day before, showed numerous requests to the same Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General for receiving a copy of the file and was told that such was regretfully delayed because of technical, apparently Covid 19 related issues.

Obviously, this blatant misrepresentation of the facts also didn’t prevent the Public Prosecutor/Substitute Attorney General from getting his request not to give me access to absolutely anything honored back then and again on November 13th, 2020, by the Presiding Justice.

On November 13th, 2020, I filled a new request for the Presiding Justice to recuse herself because of impartiality. This time, specifically in view of her decision to have the leeway to use information unbeknownst to me, in the decision-making in my case.

All I’m asking for is a fair chance to defend myself against a 23 million yearly funded Dutch Government pet project to lock up the Sint Maarten Public servants and Sint Maarten people.

Maybe, I should also file my complaint at the Integrity Chamber and see what will roll out of this one.

May God watch over our people in the Police State wherein we are living.

Developing the Caribbean from within.

by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

Economic recession, pandemic, and potential natural disasters may lead to gloom, despair, agony, deep dark depression and excessive misery. When it sounds like a hammer and feels like a hammer, it may actually be a hammer. One single word describes the biggest hurdle for renewal and progress: ‘clinging’; trying to hold on to what once was, although the conditions are changing. In these difficult times, the Caribbean has to learn to develop and strengthen itself in new ways. What is a ‘new way’? Development from within the region! Not trying to do anything about finding new ways, fits in the category ‘The Art of Suffering in Silence’.

For the development from within the Caribbean, three areas need emphasized attention:
• Inter-island trade
• Inter-island transportation
• Inter-island social activities (could be called inter-island tourism)

Nice suggestion, but who is going to do it or take the lead?
There may be only three, perhaps five territories that might qualify and be willing to explore the development-from-within-model. Preference is on working with “the willing and able” that are prepared to proactively and wholeheartedly take on a pioneer’s role. A track record of a previous stable economy and government are the top criteria. Three to five may appear to be a small group in a region 20+ territories.

There is no use for a group of candidates that would be, what they call in Texas the land of ranchers and longhorns, “all hat, no cattle”. Wannabees have no place in the development. Wannabees feel that they should have an equal say in the development. It would mean endless summits and committee meetings and very little progress, let alone to come to unified final version of the model. And even when it comes to an agreement, it would still remain questionable that it will actually be implemented. A small willing-and-able group can work faster and be more decisive and implement it among themselves. It is no time now for spinning wheels and not bringing tangible results.

There is much talk about the Pandemic, but little is said about a worldwide recession. It has proven in the past. that a major global recession will take a at least two-year recovery which brings one to 2022/2023. Experts in the various leading economies in the world have already signaled that this will be a record-breaking recession. Remember? When it sounds like a hammer… etc. There you go. And as for global, the Caribbean tourism industry is depending on source markets abroad.

A problem is that one doesn’t even know when we are at the height of recession yet. The impact is already felt. But when will the recovery really start or when will it end? Another even bigger problem is that no one can identify what the new normal will be and how it compares to the old normal. It may be considerably different.

One possible solution to tackle the new-normal dilemma is to take an initiative and actively create a new normal itself and that is where developing the Caribbean from within model comes in.

How might the development-from-within start. The three territories may agree on extending the group to five. They probably have some kind of relationship or trust in each other already. Let’s call them the Founders. These Founders should agree on appointing five to seven wise men. These are technocrats who are absolutely impartial and only have one thing in mind: redeveloping the Caribbean from within. They are not necessarily citizens or residents of the Founders. Competence and expertise are the criteria for their appointment. They will create the development model.

In general, the biggest problem that stands in the way of proper development are internal politics and policies, and not the development itself. Politicians, company shareholders and executives typically sit in a bubble, creating strategies that fit with their own perspective of the world, yet often ignoring all the external stakeholders or real-world issues. That is why impartiality and focusing on the region are so important.

How about resilience? Those who claim to be resilient, are often the ones who cannot repair the brakes and thus make the horn sound louder. Springing back or rebounding to former conditions or the former normal is not an option. The development from within model has to go beyond and cultivate change.

Yet still ? Why so few Founders? Mind that the European Union started in 1951 with only six founding nations (Belgium, France, German Federal Republic, Italy, Luxemburg and The Netherlands) in what was called the European Union for Coal and Steel. In 1957 it became the European Economic Community (EEC). It wasn’t until 1973 until Denmark, Ireland and the UK joined the six original founders. Countries that wished to join had to apply and fulfill certain conditions before being accepted as a member. Now the EU consist of 27 member countries that are obliged to follow the ‘common rules of engagement’. It is not the intention here to describe the history of the EU. The principle point is to start with a few competent Founders who have a common vision and are willing and able to come to results. Once the model or concept is established successfully, others can join.

And as for renewal and change? Quite often you can find inspiration in the world of entertainment. Artists and performers don’t have the stoppage that businesspeople or politicians do. Off-screen, actors and entertainers can say remarkable things and we laugh about them when we hear it, just because we would not dare to say it ourselves without blushing. Dolly Parton, the platinum blonde and curvy singer has said in interviews: “If I see something is dragging, sagging, and bagging, it should be pushed up!” Great advice for economy development!

Developing the Caribbean from within- part two.


by Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

In a previous essay, the “Development from within the Caribbean” was suggested. Up to five territories could be the Founders of such an initiative. Which territories is the first question that comes up. The willing and able to proactively and wholeheartedly and who are committed and competent to take on a pioneer’s role! Does that mean the ones with the largest economies, the highest growth rate, or highest GDP, or the richest? In that case, one would tend to think of the Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago, Cayman Islands, Jamaica or Bahamas. Yet, those are not necessarily the criteria. Each socio-economy is different, regardless whether economic characteristics and challenges do exist. Even countries like St.Lucia or Barbados could be one of the Founding group. It all depends on what they potentially can offer each other in an inter-island development setting.

To put a Team together one must look at the talent, resources, opportunities and especially the determination to reach the objectives. Goals and results count. If one would put a sport team together, one may also insist on mental maturity. It would bring me in the doghouse when trying to explain what the latter means in government politics. The last thing that is needed are summits that end in a PR campaign whereby PR to be standing for PRomises and PRopaganda and no implementation. The only PR that is acceptable is PRogress!

One cannot make a strong chain out of weak links. About 15 or 16 territories will be standing on the sideline and probably moaning, criticizing, or hoping, while the five Founders will move ahead. That’s just the way it is; few are in the parade, a larger number is watching the parade, and there are some that don’t even realize that there is a parade. The ones on the sideline don't have to stay there forever, but they have to perform and prove that they are worthy to join. One could call that creation of motivation. They may start following some of the benchmarks that are set by the Founders. No one will be excluded from cooperating with the Founders, on the contrary; eventually they may be able to join the group if they subscribe to the standards developed by the Founders.

The aim is not to create a Caribbean Economy Elite Club. The aim is to develop an initiative and movement to eventually create a much needed new normal, a new socio-economic development from within in the Caribbean. That new normal sets the bar higher than usual and eliminates mediocracy. A likely major side effect will be that international investors will have an interest in the group of Founding countries. Businesses and financiers are usually getting involved where there is growth and progress. That could be called the creation of an appetite. The developments will also help the much-needed diversification of the economies.

Each of the Founders’ port or airport could become a transportation hub to connect with the rest of the Caribbean. The Founders, as the movers of the group effort and activities would work on improved direct connections between their territories when focusing their group development.

Once the Founders have found each other and feel comfortable about jointly taking on the new challenges, the first step may be to inventorize what each’s strengths, talents, resources, and opportunities are, and them bring them into a group perspective. It has to be looked at where exchanges are useful and should be further pursued. What forms of cooperation can create new opportunities? Regulations could be adjusted and standardized between them for the purpose of being smoothened and eased for inter-island trade and transportation.

There has to be a shared vision of the use ocean resources and available minerals or raw materials. Agriculture including horticulture and manufacturing of goods including creative products that may be exported. Tourism will not be ignored but it will need adjustments to develop more unique niche markets.

And who will be instrumental in all this. Probably it starts with one Founder willing to take on the lead and discuss matters with other potential originators. It would be wise to select a panel of seven “wise men” who are impartial technocrats. Five of those could be appointed by the five founders. Two should be from outside the group and who have a more pan-regional or global view. This panel could be called a “Council”. The Founders must trust and have confidence in this Council, and must be more than willing to follow its advice, or at least get into in-depth consultations. However, the Council to a certain extent, could make itself also available to other territories in the region, as such would help a future extension of the Founding Group.

Does the development from within the Caribbean mean that the region will be turned up-side down? Some things will remain the same, but overall new activities will be explored and cultivated. The image of the Caribbean for being known as one of the world's top vacation destinations may be altered to one of the most flourishing subregions in the world that is attractive for many reasons. The well-being of its, as many as 40 million residents on 28 territories, will be the overall objective of the development from within. It is just that a different method and route is chosen, than what was done before. And it could begin with just five Founders, the “willing and able”.


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