Published On: Tue, Dec 8th, 2020

Answers to questions about BTP will have to wait until next year

PHILIPSBURG — Monday’s Parliament meeting about the financial status of the Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP) produced many questions, but no answers yet because Minister Ludmilla de Weever needs time to prepare them properly. Hence the meeting was adjourned until further notice which means a yet to be determined future date in 2021.

From a presentation by BTP’s Deputy Director and Chief Financial Officer Judianne Hoeve-Labega it appears that BTP’s annual budgets – and with it the performance contract of director Anthony Carty – are routinely approved by default. It also appears that budgets are always submitted too late.

Based on the national ordinance that regulates BTP, the organization has to send its budgets before September 1 of the previous year for approval to the minister responsible for Telecommunication and the minister then has to approve it (or not) before October 1. If the minister does not react within six months, the budget is approved by default.

Hoeve-Labega told parliament that BTP submitted its 2019 budget in November 2018 and its 2020 budget in March 2020. These budgets also contain reporting by director Carty on his own performance contract. In both years, the budgets were approved by default, meaning that they were not reviewed, let alone properly approved, by the minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication.

The General Audit Chamber criticized this practice already in 2015 in a performance audit into governance at BTP. The auditors wrote that some of their findings were “shocking” and that it was ‘incomprehensible that basic aspects of governance and many legal requirements were still absent.”

Hoeve-Labega said that BTP paid 4 million guilders to government in 2020 and noted that the organization needs $784,000 to meet its commitments over the period September-December of this year.

The government’s accountant bureau SOAB is currently reviewing BTP’s financial statements over the years 2017-2019, though Hoeve noted that this process has been paused because the investigation by the anti-corruption taskforce TBO has not been completed yet. “In November 2017, the TBO started an investigation into alleged corruption and fraud,” Hoeve said.

MP Claudius Buncamper later asked why BTP’s budgets are approved by default. “There is an ongoing TBO-investigation and the director may be involved,” he said. “And he gets a clean bill of health as if nothing is happening?”

BTP currently has eleven staff members and no functioning supervisory board because the term of the remaining two members (Chester Euton and Louis Bute) expired in October. The General Audit Chamber criticized BTP’s organizational structure in its 2015 report, noting that among the then ten staffers there were four managers. The chamber also wondered why BTP is outsourcing so many of its tasks.

Hoeve told Parliament that among BTP’s tasks are managing the number plan, issuing invoices and collecting payments. But those tasks have been outsourced to Actis NV, a company that was established when attorney Peggy Ann Brandon was BTP’s interim director. The director of Actis is Judith De Weever who just happens to work at the law office of Duncan and Brandon.

Members of Parliament, like Angelique Roumou, Christophe Emmanuel and Claudius Buncamper mainly questioned Hoeve-Labega and the minister about technical issues like the quality of telecom services.

But Buncamper also dived into financial matters. He asked whether BTP is successful with collecting fees from telecom providers and whether the organization is up to date with its payments to government.

Furthermore, MP Buncamper inquired what the outstanding is on the loan towards the BTP-building, how much BTP paid for this building and why its only tenant to date – the Bureau Intellectual Property – has left. “Why is the building empty, except for the space occupied by BTP?”

Buncamper also asked whether BTP is meeting the Jacobs-norm for top salaries: “We know that the BTP-salaries are extremely high.” Hoeve-Labega presented during the meeting a slide about this topic, but it was unreadable.

Related article: Emmanuel wants clarity from BTP on telecom quality, operations

The Jacobs-norm caps top salaries at government-owned entities like BTP at 130 percent of the prime minister’s salary. Dutch conditions for continued liquidity support require that Jacobs lowers her salary by 25 percent. That would put her lowered annual gross salary at approximately $107,000 and the maximum salary for BTP-director Carty at $139,100. Reportedly Carty’s current annual gross salary is around $214,000 – double that of the prime minister.

The General Audit Chamber noted in its 2015 report already that the BTP-director was receiving a salary that was higher than that of a minister. It recommended applying the public sector salary structure to BTP.

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