Published On: Wed, May 20th, 2020

Under duress

Opinion - St Maarten NewsBy Hilbert Haar

Motions are the political banana peel of the political arena. In St. Maarten they seldom result in the desired action expressed in a motion and only in extreme cases (like with a motion of no confidence) do they result in the fall of a government.

A motion is not more than a request to government to do something – or not to do something, but the government is under no obligation to execute it. In that sense, most motions are quite useless – a waste of time and energy. Motions only get real teeth if a parliament insists that they are executed and if a minister or a government refuses to do so the parliament could decide to send them home.

This is obviously not the case with the motion Heyliger-Marten that got the support from twelve out of fifteen parliamentarians in the wee hours of Wednesday morning after a rather tedious meeting about the conditions State Secretary Knops has attached to the provision of liquidity support.

Heyliger-Marten’s motion actually encourages the government to accept these conditions: “The parliament is desirous of fully supporting the Council of Minister of St. Maarten in its quest to secure financial and other assistance….” This, after Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs had already emphatically stated that she is “willing to accept the conditions under duress.”

Yeah, what else is there to do? Saying no to Knops’ conditions means no liquidity support and no liquidity support means that government activities will sooner or later come to a grinding halt, leaving almost 2,000 civil servants without an income and 40,000 citizens without government services; an unthinkable scenario.

There is however something in the motion that makes me wonder: “ ….that most if not all of the content of the proposal was already in the planning to be addressed by the government.”

I honestly wonder whether this is a true statement, given the fact that the kingdom required a 25 percent cut in the salaries of all politicians and a 12.5 percent cut in the labor conditions of civil servants and employees of government-owned companies. Plus: a cap of 130 percent of the lowered salary of the prime minister for top income in the semi-public sector. And then there is, of course, the demand for pension reform.

Here we get to the term in the planning. In St. Maarten that does not mean much. Legislation to increase the retirement and AOV-age from 62 to 65 has been at Parliament since 2018. Nobody knows when this reform will actually become law.

That the government was also planning to tackle extreme salaries in the (semi) public sector is new to me. We have known for years that the director of BTP, Anthony Carty, gets a much higher salary than the Prime Minister and nobody had ever even addressed this situation in public.

The motion furthermore suggests a conditional acceptance of the terms sets by State Secretary Knops. The conditions should not be at odds with the law, with charters, conventions or protocols, and unions should be consulted.

Dream on: the time for further consultations with anybody or for counter proposals simply is not there. At the moment there are only two choices – take it or leave it.

Everybody knows this and the prime minister has already bent to the kingdom’s wishes – be it with a meek connotation: under duress.

The question is now what is going to happen. St. Maarten accepts the conditions and gets liquidity support. Then it has to make good on its promises by cutting salaries across the board. The unions have been consulted but they oppose the measure; what civil servants are going to do once they see their next payslip is anybody’s guess.

Some parliamentarians wished the government a lot of strength. Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and her team will need it.

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Related articles:
Collective lowering of salaries is not that simple
Cost-cutting counter-proposal unions vague
Brutal package of conditions leaves government little choice
Opinion piece: “An unthinkable scenario
Motion asks for modest paycuts but Parliament approves budget without it
Ministers and MPs agree to salary reduction