Published On: Sun, Oct 11th, 2020

Audit Chamber report reveals abuse of public funds

PHILIPSBURG –- Successive governments since 10-10-10 have been epic failures. That’s not an opinion, but a statement based on findings of the General Audit Chamber that are published in its report Retrospective – Ten years of the General Audit Chamber.

“There has not been much in terms of positive change and accountability is still absent. It is like watching the same film year after year, the same structural errors, a continued lack of reliable information, and with that, the same passivity.”

The report notes that the answer to achieving increased financial autonomy lies in improving financial management. “The situation cannot continue in this manner; improvement of financial management remains a top priority.”

When you dive deeper into the report it becomes apparent that successive governments have abused public funds – at times for no apparent reason and at times for the benefit of the people they have gathered around them in the corridors of power.

One glaring example is about the costs of the cabinets of each minister. In 2020, the cabinet of Finance Minister Ardwell Irion has budgeted 55,563 guilders for allowances, while the cabinet of Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Silveria Jacobs has budgeted 240,743 guilders for the same line item: more than four times as much. Personnel costs at Jacob’s ministry also seem excessive (1,025,351 guilders) compared to the finance ministry: 530,183 guilders. Only the personnel costs at the VROMI-ministry are higher with 1,214,301 guilders.

The Audit Chamber-report notes that the 2010 manual set 253,332 guilders as the limit for the costs of each cabinet. But the cost for all seven ministerial cabinets in 2020 is a stunning 7,236,438 guilders (around $4 million). Had the government stuck to the 2010 limit, it would have saved 5,463,114 guilders (around $3 million).

Then there is the matter of bonuses for exceptional performance. The maximum bonus is 1,620 guilders. The Audit Chamber found that decisions to grant these bonuses are not always based on a (required) national decree, that the maximum of 1,620 guilders is regularly exceeded, that bonuses for previous years (going back as far as 2014) were paid or registered in fiscal year 2020 and that there is a significant difference between the budgeted and the actual numbers.

The LMA, the rulebook that regulates rights and obligations of civil servants, prohibits the private use of public property. But the regulation for St. Maarten’s government vehicles allows the secretaries-general of the seven ministries to use their cars for business and private purposes. Ministers have a government car but they still get 500 guilders per months to cover transportation expenses.

Lastly, let’s take a look at the redundancy pay for former ministers and parliamentarians. In 2019 the government forked over 570,000 guilders for this purpose, but over the first half of 2020 the number ballooned to 1,343,000 guilders – a direct result of the change of government.

The report points out that the maximum redundancy pay varies from 15,000 to 20,000 guilders, while the monthly minimum wage for a 40-hour workweek is 1,516 guilders. “The total amount paid in monthly redundancy pay for the first half of 2020 is equal to 147 monthly minimum wages,” the report notes.

In 2018 the Audit Chamber made recommendations to get the costs for redundancy pay under control. It suggested the introduction of mandatory job search for former political authorities and to grant redundancy pay only to those who have held political office for at least 180 days. Cutting the right to redundancy pay from two years to one year was another recommendation.

But like with so many of the Audit Chamber’s recommendations, these suggestions fell on deaf ears. That ministers have a tendency to ignore the Audit Chamber also appears from the following. On September 11 the chamber asked Finance Minister Ardwell Irion and Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Ludmila de Weever for a reaction to the draft version of its Retrospective report. In spite of a reminder on September 24, the ministers did not respond.

And so we keep indeed seeing the same film, year after year, with the same structural errors.


Download this report here: Retrospective – Ten years of the General Audit Chamber