Published On: Fri, Jan 27th, 2023

Unlawful spending

By Hilbert Haar

The General Audit Chamber investigates the lawful and efficient spending of public funds, or so I read in the chamber’s report about St. Maarten’s 2021 financial statements.

Related article: Government’s financial statements remain unreliable, Audit Chamber says

After reading the report I can only conclude that how the government is spending public funds is not lawful and not efficient either. Sadly, this is not even news, because the government’s lousy bookkeeping and spendthrift has been around since St. Maarten became a country on October 10, 2010 – and probably even longer.

Let us take subsidies as an example. Of the 133 million guilders ($74.3 million) our government spent on subsidies in 2021, there is no proper accountability for 30 million ($16.8 million). The Audit Chamber labels this as an uncertainty, an overly polite way of saying: “We have no clue what the hell you did with that money.”

Maybe that money was spent well. Or maybe it disappeared in pockets where it does not belong. We simply do not know. As if this is not bad enough, the Audit Chamber also found that there is a lack of internal control procedures across all ministries.

Mind you, the government has had more than ten years time to put its bookkeeping and its spending habits in order. To make sure that it spends public funds lawfully and efficiently. But it did nothing like that. It did nothing at all, so the conclusion must be that the country’s financial statements are unreliable by design. It is something that suits politicians very well.

If you read the Audit Chamber-report careful enough you will discover why this is so convenient. Ministers, or ministries, are spending money that is not part of their budget. It’s a bit like stealing from your mother’s cookie jar, but then on a grand scale. How is that even possible?

The answer to that crucial question is in the hands of our esteemed parliament. Unfortunately, parliamentarians who support the government will never, ever make trouble about this issue, because tomorrow they could be the ones doing the unlawful spending.

This is how taxpayers are held hostage by a political elite that could not care less about the way the government spends its money. Oh, sure, there will be a minority of well-meaning politicians who will ask critical questions, but as long as the coalition has a majority the government will be able to continue with its spending spree.

In the meantime, poverty on our island presents a serious problem to many families who can do nothing but shake their heads about a government that has no clue about what happened to a small fortune in subsidies. That is only one (and relatively small) example, because the total of these so-called uncertainties is according to the Audit Chamber a whopping 126.9 million guilders ($70.9 million), enough to feed a small army.

Who is going to put a stop to all this? Who is going to take all ministers to task for their irresponsible financial behavior?

I know, asking such questions is a lot easier than answering them. But from a country that is in such financial dire straits, I would have expected at least an attempt at responsible spending and at given the people a proper account of what it does with their money.


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Government’s financial statements remain unreliable, Audit Chamber says