Published On: Sat, Jan 15th, 2022

More month than money

By Terrance Rey

We are good in hiding things. Poverty is one of the things we are good in hiding. It is hidden so well that you would be inclined to blame the poverty itself for staying hidden so well.

But that is an inherent part of poverty in St. Maarten. We are a proud people and we do not like to admit to anyone that things are financially tough with us.

Not to anyone and certainly not to ourselves neither. I grew up hearing things like “Money don’t grow on trees,” “Money don’t grow on my back,” and “Do I look like I am made of money?”

With all these disempowering statements about money, I am amazed I grew up with the natural instinct to make money and how to money grow it and to seek out more ways to generate multiple income streams of money.

My first natural instinct I had whenever I received any kind of money, was to save it. In my family, I was known as The Jew. Because I was always saving every dollar I get. I had no inclination to spend money.

I still don’t. But I always knew if I wanted to buy something, I needed to have the money ready and at hand. That meant I had to save my money. At a later age, I develop the talent to identify multiple ways to generate money.

In school it turned out I had a knack for Bookkeeping. It was theory about how to keep count of how much money you had and how much you spent and what was left over, meant profit and for me, more money to save.

So I wanted to become an accountant. As a teenager, I worked under General Manager Harry Schaminee at Holland House as an assistant bookkeeper with assistant GM O’neil Richardson.

Van Dien & Co was our accounting firm auditing the books and doing annual financial reports for the Proper family, who still owns the hotel up until today. I worked there until the GM of the world famous Sheraton Mullet Bay, Kamal Asultani, convinced me to come to work at his resort. At Mullet Bay I worked under Food & Beverage manager Malcolm Cooper. At that time, we hardly knew any form of poverty on the island. St. Maarten was booming.

St. Maarten in that period developed a middle class that was the strong backbone of the island’s economy and its society. Who did not work at Mullet Bay back in the day? Sadly, we all know what became of Mullet Bay.

It became the biggest icon of hidden poverty on the island. Many counted themselves rich because of Mullet Bay. Yet, it was just another form of fooling ourselves. Many even believed that some had the golden key to reopen Mullet Bay and make the wealth accessible once again to the working masses and especially the middle class.

The same middle class that is now seeing poverty slowly creeping up on it and knocking at the doors of their big houses up on the hills. I never became the registered accountant I wanted to be. Along the way, during my studies, I realized it was much more fun making money than counting it. I never developed a liking for spending it though. Instead, I became good at hiding it. That is why I can recognize poverty when I see it. I see people spending money like there is no tomorrow and I see many people living above their means. I see this and it scares me.

What also scares me is to see St. Maarten politicians spending money today like as if there will be more tomorrow. I don’t understand that mindset. How can you spend money today when you have no assurance of money coming in tomorrow? As a country, Sint Maarten hasn’t had a balanced budget in 11 years, except for the year our minister of finance raided the coffers of our utility company NV GEBE to balance the budget in order to get the financial watchdog CFT off his back, but simultaneously putting the government-owned company in a precarious financial position as well. Like I wrote, we are good at fooling ourselves.

If we want to stop fooling ourselves, we have to learn to stop spending money recklessly, start learning to budget and save money. We especially need to learn to start generating money and creating multiple streams of income. As the New Year starts out, we need to realize that the pandemic exposed the hidden poverty on the island and it was not only among the lower class, but also among the middle class and even among some of you in the upper class. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you this: Do you have more month left than money at the end of the month? That is a well-known St. Maarten expression. Kind of like, “Are you living from hand to mouth?” If you don’t want to kid yourself, the answer to that question is a definite “Yes.”


This column was originally published in Dutch on DossierKoninkrijksrelaties.nl.

Other columns:
Just a dime on its side
Appearances are deceiving
A lesson from the history of Sint Maarten