Published On: Tue, Dec 12th, 2017

Millions for training hospitality workers

Richard Gibson 20171212

PHILIPSBURG – The amendment to the 2017 budget contains a provision of 8 million guilders for a training program for employees in the hospitality sector, Finance Minister Richard Gibson said yesterday afternoon during a meeting of the central Committee of Parliament about the state of the country’s finances.

“St. Maarten is facing serious challenges with those who lost their jobs in the hospitality sector.’ Minster Gibson said. “The consequence of this could be a spike in crime and additional pressure on the police force. There is a need to create something as soon as possible to alleviate this.” Some hospitality employees still have work for two or three days a week, thus generating a little bit of income. “We are talking about building back better and stronger.” the minister continued. “But what do we mean by that? We have to look at a better quality of our tourism product and at training the employees. They have to be professionals.”

The training program the government wants to facilitate would require hospitality workers to attend training classes for two to three hours a day – and they would get paid for showing up. “The management of Maho came up with the idea, but I did not want to do this for Maho only.” Minister Gibson said. “This should be a program for everybody. It would also reduce the risk of a rise in crime.”

The minister discussed the program with Nico Schoof, the Head of the Mission (HOM) for the recovery program. “I told him that running this program for three of four months is not enough. It should continue for at least ten months; that will be looked at.”

Minister Gibson said that state Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) may very well be right with his observation that €550 million is not enough for the reconstruction of St. Maarten. “That was an encouraging remark, because it opens the door for discussions about more funds coming to St. Maarten.”

The minister told Parliament that he would not be able to answer all the questions they had posed in a previous meeting, because some of the issues fall under the responsibility of other ministries. “I don’t like to meddle in the affairs of other ministers.” he said.

And thus questions about for instance the post office and the university were referred to the respective ministers of general affairs and education.

Minister Gibson did address questions about IKNG Inc., the Miami based company that has been contracted to supply building materials for the roof repair program. “It is an offshore company and the Council of Ministers has allocated funds for the purchase of materials for roof repair. The process to allocate these funds has not been finalized yet.”

While Minister Gibson asked parliamentarians to direct further questions about this issue to VROMI-Minister Christophe Emmanuel, he pointed out that three quotes had been requested for the purchase of these materials. IKNG was far cheaper than two local bidders, he said.

Scarcity of materials and huge demand led to price gouging; as an example Minister Gibson mentioned that the price for a sheet of zinc had skyrocketed from $42 to more than $120.

The government has allocated 5 million guilders for home and roof repairs, the minister said. Answering a question from UP-MP Theo Heyliger, he said that the first phase of the cleanup after Hurricane Irma had cost 7.8 million guilders; the invoices for this work have been approved and paid. The second phase of the cleanup will cost around 5.6 million and, further down the road, there is 3 million guilders foreseen as expenses for the third phase.

Minister Gibson could not say for sure that the budget deficit for 2018 – estimated to be 256 million guilders – will be covered from the €550 million recovery fund. “I expect this to be so, but we have not had that discussion yet,” he said.

Sheltering fifty people at the Festival Village comes at a cost of 43,000 guilders  per month, the minister said, asking Parliament to put further questions to Minister Emil Lee (Public Health, Social Development and Labor).

Top photo caption: Finance Minister Richard Gibson during yesterday’s Central Committee meeting. Photo screenshot sxmparliament.org.