Published On: Mon, Dec 20th, 2021

SSRP-audit leaves questions unanswered and raises new ones

PHILIPSBURG — The General Audit Chamber’s focus audit of the execution of the stimulus and relief program (SSRP) in 2020 raises questions about the program’s effectiveness, its authors write. The report’s cover shows a one hundred dollar bill, featuring the image of Benjamin Franklin, in the form of a puzzle.

The ministry of finance “did not provide significant financial monthly reports” for the audit and the ministry of public health, social development and labor (VSA) “did not provide any information at all.” The report states that “an obligation to do so is a statutory requirement for an audit.”

On December 3, the Audit Chamber offered both ministries the opportunity to comment on the report, but it did not receive any reply.

“There was an apparent desire at the ministry of Finance and the ministry of VSA for an audit, but we encountered a lack of cooperation during the research phase,” the report states.

The auditors found anecdotal evidence that massive lay-offs had been avoided. However, “The extension of the program into 2021 raises questions about its effectiveness.”

A legal complaints audit of the use of the funds for the business payroll support program was carried out at SZV. But according to the Audit Chamber, this report is not available to the public.

The income and unemployment support program, administered by the St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF) recorded 7,505 applications in 2020 according to the SMDF’s 2020 annual report. Of this total, 3,949 were for unemployment support and 3,556 for income support.

The minister of finance said in parliament that 6,105 applications had been approved. This means that 1,400 request (18.7 percent) were turned down. How many applicants appealed this decision is unknown, the Audit Chamber notes.

The report furthermore raises questions about the role of the ministers of Finance and VSA. “That remained unclear to us,” the auditors wrote, and for good reason.

“The minister of VSA is responsible to parliament for SZV (charged with the business payroll support program) and the SZV-director is accountable to the minister. However, SZV submits monthly reports to the minister of finance who in turn provides reports to the Cft.”

In June 2021 the Audit Chamber requested information from the ministry of Finance. After a long period of silence, the auditors received “new information” from the ministry on November 5 – half a year after the initial request.