Published On: Fri, Apr 10th, 2020

Fooling the people

Government Administration Building with Flags- 20200220 JHBy Hilbert Haar

Let’s have a closer look at our government’s solidarity initiative of and in particular at the decision to cut the salaries of ministers and members of parliament.

Based on a letter from the board financial supervision we know that parliamentarians will give up their 6 percent representation costs as of April 1st as well as their monthly car-allowance of 500 guilders.

Representation costs are based on the gross salary parliamentarians receive. They get a monthly payment based on the highest step in the highest salary scale for civil servants – plus 5 percent. The prime minister and gets 15 percent; other ministers and the minister plenipotentiary get 10 percent on top. For argument’s sake and to keep things simple, I’ll limit myself to the payment to parliamentarians.

The latest salary scale I could find dates back to 2012 when a civil servant in scale 17, step 20 made 18,517 guilders per month. Parliamentarians therefore had at that time a paycheck of 19,443 guilders gross. Since these numbers increase every year based on the price-index, it is safe to assume that this salary is now at least 20,000 guilders gross.

This puts the representation costs at 1,200 guilders; together with the car allowance MPs are therefore giving up 1,700 guilders a month. They have to make do with 18,300 guilders (around $10,224 gross) to get through the corona-crisis. And the cut represents 8.5 percent – not the 10 percent Minister Irion announced in a press release.

But that is not the end of the story, because parliamentarians – and ministers – have other fringe benefits that are not available to most salary workers.

First of all they are entitled to first class health insurance for themselves and for the members of their household. The explanatory memorandum with the national ordinance remuneration political officeholders states that this means “first class medical treatment and nursing.”

In the unfortunate case a member of parliament, or a minister, passes away, widow(er)s are entitled to three months of their monthly salaries, that is to say: the gross salary plus the 6 percent representation costs; that would be three times around 21,200 guilders for a total of 63,600 guilders ($35,530).

Furthermore ministers and the minister plenipotentiary are entitled to 30 days of paid vacation per year. Parliamentarians don’t get vacation days because the parliament has periods of recess.

However, they do get a vacation allowance – not sure if this is 6 or 8 percent – calculated over (wait for it!) their gross monthly salary plus the 6 percent representation costs. So it’s an additional payment of between 1,272 and 1,696 guilders ($710 to $948) – to be paid in the second half of June. To put these numbers in perspective: the minimum monthly wage for a salary worker with a 40-hour workweek is 1,517 guilders, or around $848.

The national ordinance’s explanatory memorandum justifies the high salaries with the following arguments. “Membership of the parliament must be seen as a full-time job that warrants a socially acceptable salary. The cost of living is significantly higher in St. Maarten than it is in Curacao.”

Furthermore the memorandum notes that the function has a “highly representative character.”

Oh and yet another perk: a child allowance for a maximum of ten children. For the first child politicians receive 55 guilders, for the second one 50, the third one 45 and 25 guilders for every child after them. A productive politician could therefore rake in another 325 guilders per month.

Minister Ardwell IrionIn a press release about the so-called solidarity initiative Minister of Finance Ardwell Irion stated the following: “The minister of finance presented his colleagues with the initiative as far back as February that expressed solidarity with the people of St. Maarten by the top officials of the country. All signatories agreed that legislation will be established to regulate the contribution towards the pension of political authorities AND [My capitalization, HH] that as of April 1st, 2020, political authorities, pending the formalization of the legislation as mentioned in the previous point, the salary cut will go into effect. Together with the approval of the 2020 budget all requirements to receive the 2019 liquidity support will be met.”

Are you still there? This rather convoluted statement strongly suggests a link between the salary cut and payments into the pension fund for politicians. It also indicates that at least for the past ten odd years, since St. Maarten became an autonomous country in the kingdom, politicians have not paid a penny into that fund. Go figure. Am I the only one to find this, what shall I say, fooling the people?

This is not solidarity; it is rather a parlor trick to get a hold of the badly needed liquidity support from the Netherlands.

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