Published On: Wed, Jan 24th, 2018

Generous unemployment scheme

Hilbert Haar 20180120By Hilbert Haar

The call by MP Sarah Wescot-Williams to immediately put a stop to the payment of political pensions to ousted ministers and members of Parliament comes at a curious moment. It’s election time, remember?

The St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) jumped on the bandwagon to support Wescot-Williams’ initiative, adding a proposal to cut the salaries of members of Parliament by 30 percent. It all makes sense, but it is not going to happen.

Why? Because the people who will be affected by such measures are the people who will have to approve these proposals. The fifteen members of Parliament have a firm grip on their own financial future.

So far, there have been three earlier attempts to do something about the ridiculously high salaries members of Parliament receive. The SHTA put this in a press release neatly in perspective. An MP in St. Maarten receives $11,539 per months, while an MP in Curacao – three times the size of St. Maarten – gets just $7,111. Aruban MPs get $6,069 per month, while Aruba has roughly 2.5 times as many citizens as St. Maarten.

For ministers the same differences apply: St. Maarten $12,090, Aruba ($8,365 and Curacao $7,839 per month.

Roy Marlin, a former commissioner and member of Parliament for the Democratic Party was the first one who dared to question his own salary. In a motion he submitted to Parliament on January 16, 2014, Marlin suggested a salary cut of 12 percent for MPs, after the ministers of the cabinet that was in office at the time had already taken a voluntary 30,000 guilders cut. But later Marlin withdrew his motion because none of the other MPs (including his party leader Sarah Wescot-Williams) had co-signed it.

A year later, in February 2015, the current interim Prime Minister Leona Marlin-Romeo took a shot at bringing down her salary and that of her colleagues. Marlin-Romeo suggested to take a more modest cut of 5 percent. The proposal went nowhere.

In February 2016, UP-MP Tamara Leonard toyed with the idea of cutting down the salaries for parliamentarians from 19,000 ($10,615) to 12,000 guilders ($6,704) a month, a spectacular dive of  36.8 percent. We don’t know whether her party called her to order, but the fact remains that her proposal never reached the floor of Parliament in the form of a motion.

These examples show that politicians – with rare exemptions – are simply unwilling to take a good look at the kind of money they make. We’ve heard the argument that the cost of living in St. Maarten is higher than it is in Curacao and Aruba. If that is so, then why is the minimum wage not also higher here?

And here is another thing. When St. Maarten became an autonomous country in 2010, I calculated from the legislation the salaries of parliamentarians and ministers in real numbers.

Asked about this income, Wescot-Williams observed rather drily at the time: “That’s before taxes.”

The political pension ministers and parliamentarians are entitled to are regulated in the national ordinance pension regulation politicians.

Let’s take the ousted Minister of VROMI, Christophe Emmanuel as an example. He was elected to Parliament first in 2014, before he became a minister, so he is entitled to the full 2 years of political pension (a nice name for social benefits – or ‘onderstand’ – for unemployed politicians) unless he gets re-elected in the February 26 elections.

During the first three months of unemployment, Emmanuel would get 95 percent of his $11,539 monthly salary; that’s three times $10,796.05 or $32,388.15 – not bad for doing nothing at all. The next 7 months he would receive 85 percent ($9,808.15) for a total of $68,657.05. Then there are ten months of 75 percent ($8,654.25) for as total of $86,542.50. That leaves the last four months of the two year period. For those months the unemployed minister would cash 70 percent ($8,077.30) for a total of $32,309.20. All in all, a minister who has not reached retirement age will not be destitute. Who sees $219,896.20 roll into his bank account for doing nothing?

These numbers explain why politicians are not prepared to even think about giving up this generous unemployment scheme.