Published On: Tue, Feb 13th, 2018

Election campaign without billboards but with unrealistic promises

Maho Beach boardwalk

PHILIPSBURG – These are probably the first elections in a long, long time without huge political billboards all over the island. Whether this is because parties fear a backlash from voters if they dare spending money on billboards or because their financial backers don’t have any money to give is anybody’s guess. The result is that the campaign for elections that are just a bit more than ten days away, takes place on social media and at the usual boisterous public meetings parties host in the districts.

Candidates for the United Democrats have been quite active on social media. MP Claret Connor published an extensive statement, saying that the electorate would be bombarded with “a humongous amount of ideas.” As examples Connor mentions reducing the salaries of parliament and government (it’s part of the manifesto of the St Maarten Christian Party, SMCP – the only party that has actually published a manifesto), raising the minimum wage and reducing turnover and profit tax.

“What you are being told are just empty promises,” Connor warns. He therefore does not fall into the trap of making empty promises himself. Instead, he refers to the establishment of the Integrity Chamber – approved by the new majority in parliament –  and to the agreement to strengthen border control.

“This will have a direct positive effect on how we will be able to protect our local work force by restricting illegal immigration and addressing immoral business practices.”

Connor furthermore notes that, “as leaders and aspiring leaders of our country, we must possess the ability to execute our duties with integrity and moral belief.”

Elections promises are coming, not unexpectedly, from United St. Maarten party leader MP Frans Richardson. Within the first six months in office, the USp wants to reduce the turnover tax from 5 to 3 percent, reduce the profit tax from 34.5 to 15 percent and increase the minimum wage to $1,000 per month.

The USp does not explain how it wants to cover the shortfall in government revenue these lower taxes will cause. The party does not go into how it will create the necessary legislation that has to underpin these promises in such a short time.

The previous government projected to collect 143.9 million guilders ($80.4 million) in turnover tax this year – but that projection was made before Hurricane Irma changed everything. The number shows however that turnover tax is an important part of the government’s annual revenue. Shaving 2 percent off this number as the USp wants would cost the government theoretically more than 57.5 million guilders ($32.2 million) in lost revenue.

Profit tax is lower on the totem pole with projected pre-Irma revenue for 2018 of 34.6 million guilders ($19.3 million). Dropping the rate to 15 percent would result in lost revenue of more than 19.5 million guilders ($10.9 million). That brings the cost for the USp’s fiscal proposals to 77 million guilders ($43 million) a year; based on the pre-Irma projected total revenue of 484.5 million ($270.7 million), this represents close to 16 percent of the budget. n other words: each of the seven ministries would get 11 million guilders ($6.2 million) less at its disposal.

As for the minimum wage is concerned, that is currently, based on a 40-hour work week, $855.05. Moving it up to $1,000 therefore represents an increase of around 17 percent. This would put an additional $33.45  per week (or $4.77 per day) in the pockets of employees who work for minimum wage.

In a statement published on social media Richardson notes that the turnover tax “is a burden that does not help the business sector in its recovery after Irma.” He also notes that the tax that “many businesses (….) avoid and (inspires them) to change their economic behavior.”

Richardson sees the need for “a drastic change to fiscal policies” that will “reduce cost for consumers, put more disposable income in their pockets while still presenting incentives for new businesses small, medium and large.”

Our initiatives will be bold and practical, Richardson furthermore wrote, but it remains unclear how he wants to achieve his objectives.

The National Alliance has dropped the 2016 slogan We Deliver and replaced it with Always Progressive. The party posted a video of one of its public meetings on social media where party-leader Silveria Jacobs struts the stage and giving a performance in which she assures her audience that other parties are “shaking in their boots.”

Individual candidates are on the web with glamour pictures accompanied by some bullet points that explain the areas they focus on. For Anna Rabess-Richardson, the NA’s number 5 candidate this is, among other things: a military academy, planned parenthood and a consumer protection law. Candidate number 7, George Pantophlet mentions the ending of short-term labor contracts (literally: ending short-term contacts), while only last week he did not show up for a meeting of parliament where changes to the civil code could have been approved to deal with this matter.

We also noticed a post by Louis Engel, the number 19 candidate of the United Democrats. Under the banner “change that benefits” Engel posted two ideas for the enhancement of the tourism product: a Maho Beach boardwalk and a Maho beach breakwater, without any further explanation.

Minister Emil Lee (Public Health, Social Development and Labor) uses the hashtag #becauseintegritymatters to underline where he stands. The new hospital – a work in progress – national health reform, quality physicians and an plan for customer service improvement at SZV are high on Lee’s agenda.

Photo caption: Rendering of the Maho beach Boardwalk, a pipedream posted by UD-candidate Louis Engel. Photo screenshot.