Published On: Sun, Feb 17th, 2019

A party for the happy few

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

St. Maarten’s parliamentarians do not have a strong record when it comes to appreciating the contents of critical reports about the functioning of the government or about the dire straits the country finds itself in after Hurricane Irma. Just ask the guys who work at the General Audit Chamber.

The 2018 Article IV consultation report from the International Monetary Fund is probably in for the same treatment that has befallen all those reports from the General Audit Chamber. That is to say, if anybody is going to say anything at all about this report, it will most likely be that St. Maarten does not need foreigners to tell it what to do.

The IMF-report contains rather alarming information about the state of affairs in St. Maarten. With just a little bit of bad luck, public debt could increase to unsustainable levels and if the political instability that has become the hallmark of the way things go in Philipsburg writes a new chapter come Friday, potential investors will most likely run screaming for cover.

How shortsighted can you be? That St. Maarten must get its house in order is not new. The IMF-report contains a summary of all those things that hamper economic growth – cumbersome regulations, red tape, weak governance, antiquated tax and labor laws – the list goes on and on and includes furthermore a restrictive labor market, high energy costs and political volatility.

All together, these factors constitute “structural impediments to economic growth” according to the IMF. And this list does not even include the possible impact of another natural disaster, so go figure.

Always ready to help, the IMF includes a couple of suggestions to save the day. Those suggestions focus on St. Maarten’s spending habits. Look at what you spend on goods and services, implement a hiring freeze and reform the pension system are just three ideas.

The fourth one is certain to get politicians going: reduce the cost of politics. It has not escaped the IMF’s attention that politicians take very good care of themselves. So far, all attempts to bring those costs down have failed. With the exception of the Christian Party, no politician is prepared to give up part of her or his income and benefits. Still, the IMF suggests that the government takes a closer look at the wages and benefits of high office holders; that goes beyond the parliament and the Council of Ministers straight to other high councils of state like the office of the Ombudsman, the Council of Advice and the General Audit Chamber.

St. Maarten has enough potential to become a community where there is enough for everyone. But as long as our decision makers close their eyes to their own obvious shortcomings and their failure to admit that they are grabbing an unreasonable amount of money from the public purse the country will remain poor while the party for the happy few continues.

Related articles:
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Audit Chamber: “Ministries are not in control of public funds”