Published On: Sun, Mar 26th, 2023

Generous travel allowances for ministers on a cut 2023 budget

PHILIPSBURG — Finance Minister Ardwell Irion allocated himself a travel budget of NAf 60,000 for 2023, an increase of 601.39% compared to 2022. Tourism Minister Leo Lambriex has 100 percent more to spend on travel than his predecessor Roger Lawrence. Their budgets, as well as those of Health Minister Omar Ottley and Minister of Justice Anna Richardson, exceed that of Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs.

The Prime Minister has only NAf 15,300 to spend on travel this year, a reduction of 69.41%. The 2023 budget of Government is showing “cuts, cuts and more cuts”, the opposition in Parliament noted. But there are also curious increases. The travel and accommodation costs of the Ministry of Finance increased by 1093.93%. This cannot be attributed to the Finance or Fiscal Affairs Department, but solely to the minister and his cabinet. The travel budget of Minister Irion increased from NAf 8,554 to NAf 60,000, or NAf 5,000 per month. His cabinet also has NAf 60,000 to spend, instead of NAf 7,000 last year.

The travel budget of Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Lambriex is NAf 50,000, twice as much as his predecessor Roger Lawrence could spend on travel. Lambriex’s cabinet also received NAf 50,000, an increase of NAf 30,000 from last year.

Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor (VSA) Omar Ottley and Minister of Justice Anna Richardson have a travel budget of NAf 50,000 and NAf 45,000 respectively, each the same as in 2022.

Remarkably, Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (ECYS) Rodolphe Samuel has zero budget to travel, and the same applies to Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) Egbert Doran.

“How is it possible that the travel expense for the staff and minister of VROMI is zero, yet the minister is off island?” Member of Parliament Grisha Heyliger-Marten asked on Friday during the 2023 budget debate in Parliament. “The Minister stated that he made an amendment, but we haven’t received such amendment.” Asked for clarification, Finance Minister Irion revealed that Minister Doran had made an amendment for NAf. 60,000 from a post for legal and other expert advice towards travel and accommodation.

Independent MP Christophe Emmanuel criticized Minister Doran’s absence at the start of the debate, on Wednesday. “Today, you have a minister jump on a plane and gone, and don’t even see the importance of the budget,” the MP said. “And what does the government do? The ministers paint it nice, saying that he is attending the United Nations water conference, and he will be speaking on behalf of the Kingdom.” Emmanuel stressed the importance of the budget, wondering what the attendance of the minister in New York means for St. Maarten. “Nothing can compare to you being here in Parliament, Minister.”

Party for Progress MP Raeyhon Peterson addressed the Finance Minister. “I see that your personal travel budget went from 8.5 thousand to 60 thousand guilders, an increase of more than 600%. Why does the Minister of Finance of St. Maarten have to travel more than our Prime Minister, the person who actually represents us internationally?,” Peterson asked. “In the same light Minister, why is the budget for the Department of Foreign Affairs, the department that actually needs to travel as part of their job, still only budgeted at a total of 8,500 guilders?”

Minister Irion replied that the 2022 budget reflected Covid-19 cuts, whereas the current budget is based on the scheduled meetings of the Steering Committee of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten and development bank OBNA, as well as travel to the Netherlands. “The Cabinet support staff accompanies me at times,” Irion stated.

Minister Irion, however, did not approve the travel budget from Parliament. “Why was it cut?”, MP Sarah Wescot-Williams asked, referring to the 69.94% deduction of the budget from NAf 652,750 to NAf 202,750 for 15 Members of Parliament and support staff.

After receiving a note of amendment from the minister of Finance, leaving Parliament with less than a third of the proposed travel budget, Government came up with the idea of ​​having foreign ships sail under the St. Maarten flag, which is projected to generate millions for Government’s coffers. “All at once Parliament got over half a million guilders from ship registration, and our travel budget has been increased back,” Wescot-Williams said in disbelief. “I am looking forward to see this ship registration plan.”