Published On: Thu, Aug 27th, 2020

PFP concerned about Plan B and economic recovery

PHILIPSBURG – Party for Progress members of Parliament Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson issued a press release on Thursday, expressing their concern over responses received to questions sent to the Prime Minister, particularly those related to Government’s much-discussed ‘plan B.’

The faction noted that they had submitted questions to the Prime Minister regarding the ongoing discussion with the Kingdom Government over support for the country, the economic recovery plan (which was requested by Parliament on July 8th” and what was in Government’s ‘plan B.’

Clarity on the economy, it seems, will not be available for several more weeks, according to the responses received to the faction’s questions. The Prime Minister in her response made reference to the recently published National Development Vision. The Vision document is itself just a draft, and stakeholder discussion is now being held to finalize it, a process the Prime Minister expects to be completed in four to six weeks. At the same time, the response continues, the Ministry of TEATT’s economic recovery plan is being finalized. The two will form the country’s socio-economic recovery plan, the Prime Minister responded, stating that the goal is to have “a sound and comprehensive document from which Government can build on.

“That we are now six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it is worrying to learn that a plan for our recovery is still weeks away,” Gumbs said in the release. “Liquidity support aside, we see examples of proactive and dynamic solutions within the region that we can explore, from as close as Anguilla, which launched a one-year remote-work incentive to prospective visitors as an economic stimulant. Barbados has launched a similar initiative in July…but we are weeks away. Does our private sector have these weeks to give?”

In response to the faction’s question regarding the potential ‘plan B’ of Government, the Prime Minister informed the MPs that Government is seeking a loan from the Central Bank of Curacao & St. Maarten, as well as exploring the option of raising funds through selling shares of government entities and assets to third parties. SOAB, according to the Prime Minister, has already begun evaluating the value of all government-owned companies. This proposed ‘plan B’ has been propped up on the floor of Parliament as well, but it raises specific concerns for the PFP faction.

“There has been the suggestion of having SZV purchase shares of GEBE or Telem, with the option for Government to buy back later,” Peterson stated, “but has consideration been given to the impact on, for example, the AOV pension fund (old age pension), which is the most viable fund currently and so may be the fund paying for these shares? For years, Government has not been actually paying the civil servant premiums to SZV, which impacts the health of SZV funds. We highly doubt that this will begin to happen anytime soon, considering the current liquidity situation of the country. There are other questions around this, such as how much money will this yield, will it be enough to sustain and boost the economy, and most importantly, will Government even be able to buy them back.”

More troubling to the faction is the curious fact that in Tuesday’s Kingdom Relations Committee meeting, it appears that incorrect information was released to the viewing public regarding the status of government asset, Saba Bank Resources N.V. Chairman Rolando Brison expressed that there was $3 million in the NV’s accounts “just sitting there,” and that St. Maarten, which he stated holds “87-something percent of the shares,” could take that money and use it as collateral “to get $30 million.”

“In truth, St. Maarten owns 28.23% of the shares of Saba Bank Resources N.V., as per the country budget,” Gumbs explained. “The majority shareholder is, in essence, the Netherlands. As of 2020, Saba Bank Resources N.V.’s reserves amount to a little over $875,000; a far cry from the alleged $3 million and nowhere near enough to “get” the $30 million amount stated. It is our sincerest hope that this trend of false information and misinformation to the public stops; it creates false hope for people who are actively worried about their financial situation for the next three months.”

The faction noted in their release that it is pending responses from the Minister of Finance on questions they submitted regarding the financial state of the country, while awaiting the conclusion of the stakeholder meetings for the National Development Vision, as well as the Ministry of TEATT’s economic recovery plan. Their hope is that some transparency is created once these documents are received and that there is a viable and feasible plan for the country’s economic recovery and health.