Unpaid Advice: How Government Can Cut Phone Costs

PHILIPSBURG — “St Maarten’s Government Crazy Phone Bills” is the headline heading up an article on the website of our colleague in the media business, Mervin Hanley of THG News Today. That one certainly caught our attention. The St. Maarten government’s crazy phone bills also caught the attention of Achken R. Richardson, an engineer with years of experience dealing with government. But first some background information to led to this report.

During the Council of Ministers’ weekly press briefing on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020, Minister of Finance, Ardwell Irion, informed the media that for the last couple of months the government of St. Maarten has been looking at how it can lower expenditures. One of these expenditures regard to the phone bills. The government had started cutting costs in this area since the Leona Romeo-Marlin cabinet initiated the program in 2018/2019.

Minister of Finance Ardwell said that indeed, as he has said before in the past, “we are looking at the phone bills and gas bonds.” He continued by stating, “We have also had payments deferred for at least three months and I am proud to say that we have finalised the process for the telephones.” The minister also noted the support of Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs in this process. The responsibility for telephones and telecommunication services fall under the ministry of General Affairs headed by the Prime Minister.

Irion further elaborated on the budgetted and actual figures regarding the phone costs over the past five years. In 2015, the government had budgeted NAf. 1.2 million for phone cost, however, it booked NAf. 5.5 million, which was NAf. 4.3 million over budget. The trend continued in 2016, when the bills were NAf. 4 million over budget. In 2017, it was over budget by NAf. 4 million, in 2018 by NAf. 3.6 million and in 2019 by NAf. 3.5 million.

“We already see the trend that was taking place in government in the last five years, which is why we thought it was very important to again look at this area in government,” Irion said. “A quick win where we can lower our cost. We have done the same with the gas bonds situation.”

Irion concluded with the information that they had a presentation in their Council of Ministers (COM) meeting the previous day about a new system they will be applying throughout government to lower cost where it pertains to gas.

Unpaid Advice to Government from Achken R. Richardson

However, according to Achken Richardson, cutting back on government telephone bills is not going to solve the problem just like that. “What we see here is extreme abuse of the telephones in every ministry of government.” Richardson wrote to StMaartenNews.com.

“A special team within the telephone services department, including employees within TelEm/UTS and a few neutrally assigned professional individuals from the private sector should carry out monthly random checks into ministries, departments, and offices of ministers as well as parliamentarians to get an idea of from and to where calls are made.” Richardson wrote. “Do not be surprise of what the outcome will be.”

According to Richardson, it will be proven that much of these calls are privately made. What ought to be investigated is to whom they are made and the duration and costs of every phone call be registered. “If the Minister of Finance is really serious about cutting phone costs, then let us expose the culprit individuals and their calling destinations.” Richardson stated. “That is the only way that the abuse will really stop. Because the culprits will be individually exposed by their names and who they are calling, and how long are these telephone calls lasting.”

“Every Minister, Parliamentarian, Secretary General, and Department Head should from thereon be held responsible for every private call being made from their Ministries. Meaning that from hereon there should be salary deductions made to those who are abusing this.”

“Also make comparisons of Government vehicles, placing them into Categories of Low usage unto High Usage, based on their Ministries.”

“You can already get an idea of the real monthly cost in this area per vehicle, per ministry based on the Categories of Ministers, Parlementarians, SGs, Dept Heads, as well as those Departments responsible for Public Control and Inspections.”

Richardson concluded by writing: “Expose the individuals abusing the situation, as well as making those in charge responsible, because this have been going on for decades. Can you imagine a telephone that can make international calls placed in a copy room where everyone goes to make copies? That is just a joke!”


Publisher’s Note: By naming the title in this article “Unpaid Advice“, StMaartenNews.com pay homage to the late Gerard Bijnsdorp, the original Unpaid Advisor to the Government, who passed away on September 16th at the age of 77. An ‘unapologetic political commentator’, Bijnsdorg snubbed his nose at authoritarian behavior and injustice and we admired him for that and for his use of satirical humor to express his aversion to such attitudes. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family, especially his wife and two daughters, his friends, his salsa dance partners and all his students at MPC who are who they are today because of “Meneer Bijnsdorp”. May his soul rest now in eternal peace with a knowing smile on his face and a spark of humor in his eyes.

Memorial tributes can be posted online via http://bit.ly/gerardbijnsdorp.