Published On: Thu, Jun 11th, 2020

Follow the money

By Hilbert Haar

If I assume that the finance ministry is putting together the country’s budgets to the best of its abilities the conclusion must be that there is definitely something wrong. Maybe not with those abilities but with the decision making process of our government.

Is this a matter of unwillingness or have we been pushed so far into a corner that we are unable to make other – or better decisions? You tell me.

I am thinking about the poor state of the Pointe Blanche prison and about more than thirty reports from the Progress Committee that have urged successive governments to finally take action.

The only one who ever did something (or made an attempt) is former Justice Minister Roland Duncan with the presentation of a mammoth plan for a new prison surrounded by other facilities like a new courthouse for the pretty sum of 100 million. I forget whether it was dollars or guilders, but it was a lot of money. The Cft intervened and made sure the government could not borrow the money for this project.

This probably saved the country from financial disaster but it did nothing to improve the detention conditions for inmates.

Last year there was suddenly a small provision on the budget for improvements to the prison but it all came to nothing because the government did not get the loan it needed to execute the plan. In 2020 the same provision has mysteriously disappeared from the budget.

But wait: there is light at the end of the tunnel. For the years 2021 and 2022, the government has budgeted 47.6 million guilders for the construction of a new prison.

Our financial supervisor, always a stickler for details, notes in a letter to Finance Minister Ardwell Irion that the funding for this lofty initiative is missing. You really got to have a long, long prison sentence to benefit one day from improved detention conditions. It looks like this is not going to happen this decade.

The creative accountants at the finance ministry have other headaches on their plates as well. The budget deficit is too high and they have to find 16 million guilders for the months of May and June to cover costs of the financial support plan that are not covered by liquidity support. More cost-cutting measures ….. sigh.

I figure that if all this was up to accountants the problems could disappear within a week or so. But decisions about cost-cutting measures are political and therefore some of them never see the light of day.

The Cft never tires of proposing suggestions – some of which have been around for a long time. Like having patients contribute a percentage to their own healthcare costs. If I remember correctly there once was a plan to have people pay 10 percent of their medication but that idea must have been too hot to handle for our decision-makers; never heard of again.

The Cft suggests basing these contributions on income – and that’s an idea I like; the higher your income, the higher your contribution. It is one way of keeping healthcare within reach for people who are less well-off.

Yet another idea that has apparently been relegated to a dusty desk drawer is to lower the prices of medication. I don’t know why this is not happening but I guess you only have to find out who is benefitting from those high prices and you have your answer. Follow the money, so to speak.

The correct strategy for bringing those prices down is no big secret: join forces with other jurisdictions (like French St. Maarten, St. Barths, St. Kitts & Nevis) to strengthen your position towards the pharmaceutical industry. It doesn’t sound all that difficult to do but based on results it is currently a bridge too far for St. Maarten. Pity.

###

Related articles:
Financial supervisor Cft critical of 2020 budget