Published On: Sat, Apr 6th, 2019

Between a rock and a hard place, but worse


By Hilbert Haar

The expression caught between a rock and a hard place does not begin to describe the situation St. Maarten finds itself in now that the Kingdom Council of Ministers has put conditions in place for the provision of liquidity support.

I can already hear members of Parliament moan about abuse of power by the Netherlands, but the conditions the Kingdom put on the table on Friday are mostly self-inflicted injuries. Some of them can be cured easily and doing this quickly would at least show the Kingdom a sign of good will. It would buy the country some desperately needed time to meet all requirements.

The first condition is completely within the control of our fifteen parliamentarians. The kingdom demands that they cut their remuneration by 10 percent. It is not a popular topic in Wilhelminasteeg and all previous attempts to bring down the bloated income MPs enjoy have failed miserably.

Cutting down these salaries is however a small price to pay in exchange for more than $112 million in liquidity support that is available for 2018 and 2019. According to the General Audit Chamber, the base salary for a member of parliament is $10,862 per month. For fifteen MPs (actually 16 at the moment, because the suspended MP Theo Heyliger also continues to get paid) – so 16 – this amounts to $2,085,504 per year. Ten percent of that amount is $208,550 – a lot of money, for sure, but peanuts compared to the enormous amount of liquidity support the country needs to keep its doors open.

Will our parliamentarians finally come to their senses? Or will they play the colonialism-card and mutter something about independence.

There is a second condition the country can easily comply with: pension reform. The relevant legislation was submitted to parliament last year and the idea was to execute this law per January 1, 2019.

For reasons unknown the draft law is still pending – and it is costing the country money it does not have. Actually, pension reform should have gone into effect per January 1, 2016 – based on an instruction from the Kingdom Council of Ministers in 2015. To say that parliament is dragging its feet is therefore an understatement.

Do or die? Without liquidity support the government will soon be unable to pay salaries. Departments will have to shut down, government services will cease to function. Garbage collection is one of those services that come to mind.

That improving detention capacity at the Pointe Blanche prison will take more time is clear. But I am sure that the kingdom will give the country more time to bring the prison up to par if those other two conditions – the salaries of MPs and pension reform – are handled with lightning speed.

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