Published On: Thu, May 3rd, 2018

Kingdom puts pressure on deadline for 2018 budget

Raymond Knops 20171127A - HHPHILIPSBURG – The Central Committee meeting about the 2018 budget continues on Thursday morning at 10 a.m. under pressure of a deadline set by State Secretary Raymond Knops who demanded on Wednesday morning an approved budget by Tuesday at midnight the latest; otherwise the Kingdom Council of Ministers will unleash an instruction on St. Maarten.

The preliminary budget debate in the Central Committee was not one for the ages. There was no packed public tribune and only a lackluster interest from some twenty-odd online viewers. The topic could not even bring all parliamentarians to Wilhelmina Street. Remarkably absent were Frans Richardson, the beleaguered leader of the United St. Maarten party, United Democrats-MP Franklin Meyers and National Alliance MPs William Marlin and Christophe Emmanuel.

There was no real firework, but it was nevertheless remarkable that the new MPs – especially Luc Mercelina, Rolando Brison, Wycliffe Smith – made themselves heard.

Finance Minister Mike Ferrier repeated last week’s call for “collaboration rather than confrontation” and for coming together. “We have all been touched by Irma.”

Ferrier got his wish; while MPs fired a series of matter-of-fact questions, there was no political grandstanding – but maybe the opposition is keeping that in store for the handling of the budget in the public meeting that will probably take place next week Tuesday, or, if possible at all, one day sooner.

MP Luc MercelinaLuc Mercelina (UD) expressed his concerns about the 2018 budget because of its huge deficit. “The government does not explain how it will cover this deficit,” he said. “It is unlikely that the Kingdom government will agree with this.”

That is however exactly what the Kingdom has already done, by declaring an article in the kingdom law financial supervision applicable that allows St. Maarten to present a budget with a deficit.

Mercelina noted that personnel costs represent 39 percent of the budget, while only 1.5 percent goes to road maintenance and while free health insurance for civil servants swallows 22.7 million guilders. “Isn’t it time for civil servants to contribute to their healthcare costs just like employees in the private sector?” he asked.

Minister Emil Lee (Public Health) later answered that civil servants are supposed to contribute 10 percent of their medical costs but that this has so far not been collected. According to the minister, the yield from this measure is “fairly low” due to the affiliated administrative costs. “The National Health Insurance will bring civil servants in line with the private sector,” he said.

Wycliffe Smith (St. Maarten Christian Party – SMCP) announced what his party also stated in its political manifesto before the elections: “I will ask my colleagues to reduce our own salaries. If ministers have to give up part of their salaries, members of parliament ought to do the same,” he said.

MP Ardwell IrionMP Ardwell Irion (NA) noted that the budget looks more pre-Irma than post-Irma. He referred in particular to the increase of the subsidy for the Heineken regatta with 50,000 to 350,000 guilders. Minister Cornelius de Weever (Tourism and Economic Affairs) said later that this decision was taken before the hurricane.

De Weever said that one thousand sailors from twenty different nations had taken part, that 15,000 people had attended the races and regatta-events and that 73 different media outlets had covered the event.

Answering questions from National Alliance leader Silveria Jacobs, Minister Miklos Giterson (Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure) said that Hurricane Irma had damaged 70 to 85 percent of all houses to a certain extent and that less than 50 percent of these homes were insured. The number of underinsured homes is still a topic of research. Giterson said that 925 families had applied for assistance with home repairs and that of this group 560 were uninsured.