Budget takes hammering in second day parliament meeting

POSTED: 04/10/13 11:40 AM

ArrindellSt. Maarten – It took former President of Parliament, drs. Gracita Arrindell all of two hours and thirty minutes to puncture holes in the National Alliance/Democratic Party/ Independent 3 government’s budget that was officially presented to a public Central Committee meeting on Monday. The 2013 Draft Budget currently stands at 457, 874.400 guilders and is seen as the most important public instrument for shaping the country’s development.  Yet it has shown neglect for social dialogue, lacks specifics on how it intends to deal with the many ills in society and is disconnected from the governing program, Working for the People, Arrindell said.

Independent Parliamentarian Romain Laville who supports the governing coalition suggested that the government “think outside the box”, so that the wishes expressed in the governing program can be funded and realized.

Arrindell summarized the document as devoid of innovation, policies and shrouded.

“Too late, too less, too much taxes, too contradictory, too arrogant, voiceless, void of partnership between the public and private sector, void of a better quality of life for senior citizens and youth, void of incentives for present business or to attract new business, void of policies to attract foreign direct investment to St. Maarten,” Arrindell said to raised eyebrows from the Council of Ministers.

Prior to her comments, Laville had said that, “Even though we are more developed infrastructural and economically strong, when we look at our social issues, we have a lot to desire.”

“Too often the alternative is always to raise taxes. We need to think bigger and broader. We must start looking for foreign investment to provide jobs for people,” he added.

National Alliance (NA) Parliamentarian George Pantophlet said that he was certain that the “skeleton budget” presented by the government was not the government’s desire but the administration had to comply with the CFT.

He asked where it is mentioned in the budget, the amount of money that has been allocated to the Corporate Governance Council. Pantophlet also wants to know when government will collect the 1.8 million guilders in outstanding casino fees from casino license owners.

That money he said could be used as additional money to buffer the “skeleton” budget while government owned companies have to start paying their fair share so that the CGC can possess adequate resources.

Finance Minister Roland Tuitt was asked by Pantophlet how many homes, properties and lands have been sold from May 2012 to March 2013, to get an estimate on property taxes and “to find out where the most revenue was lost or generated,” he said.

With regard to government controlled cash registers at businesses to prevent tax evasion, Pantophlet asked  whether government would be purchasing the registers or would be supplied by government and the associated costs.

The document in its current form is “void of substance despite its title, indifferent and disconnected from the plight of the people,” Arrindell continued in her criticism of the Draft 2013 Budget.

She referred to the advices of the board on financial supervision (CFT), the Council of Advice and the Social Economic Council in her presentation, saying that the government was constantly ignoring advices given and had also failed to follow procedures with the timely submission of the 2012 Budget Amendments , Financial Statements for 2011 and 2013 draft budget.

Laville decried the lack of quality infrastructural developments in districts, healthcare and social security.

“People don’t mind paying a little more if they can see where it is going,” Laville said. He added that even if citizens do not understand the rationale of government in its decisions, once they derive benefits from it then they would not mind.

Arrindell said that 2012 budget amendments should have first been handled before the 2013 Budget is discussed.

“When does the minister intend to bring the 2012 budget amendments to Parliament? Where is the 2011 Year Report? Were the deviations to the budget 2012 handled in accordance with the law? How far is the 2014 Budget preparation? What we are handling today is against all of the laws. It is illegal and putting government subsidized foundations on a leash.”

Dr. Lloyd Richardson (NA) asked the Finance Minister whether it would be possible for the   2014 budget to be prepared within 4 months, so that all future budget cycles can flow in a timely manner.

On the issue of the so-called sin tax on alcohol and tobacco, Arrindell said that while she is not a personal supporter of the two industries, additional taxation on them is a very serious issue that could affect St. Maarten’s status as a duty free country.

Both Pantophlet and Dr. Richardson signaled their support of the government’s plan to tax the two items.

Arrindell also asked how the government intends to improve tax collection when it had cut personnel costs for the tax department.

“There is a disconnection between the governing program and the budget. There is more room for new policies. The budget reflects a balance between expenditure and income and while the government boasts of increases there are hardly any new policies to attract foreign investments,” Arrindell said.

Dr. Richardson suggested that government updated figures on the amount of foreigners that are in the country, so that more realistic figures on projected revenues can be accrued.

“We have to bridge the hole, so that we can be very exact with wage taxes and profit taxes that are owed. How far is the minister with regard to receiving accurate data on the amount of people on the island so that St. Maarten can comply with the regulations of the Cft?”

Government could further explore the possibility of education tertiary students in less costly areas, he added.

Hyacinth Richardson (NA) called for a general tariff to be implemented at Gebe and also asked whether it would be possible to make an amendment to the draft budget, which is still to be passed, that would allow for at least 1.2 million guilders to be allocated to farmers for agricultural development.

He indicated that more job opportunities can be created for returning students and asked the government to provide the current unemployment figures for young adults between ages 18 to 28.

Richardson also wants government to meet with the unions to discuss alternatives to the cost of living adjustment (Cola) before the situation escalates.

“We need to know whether all civil servants have received their Cola. If not, why not?” Richardson queried.

A similar concern was shared by Arrindell who said that both unionized workers and pensioners are waiting to hear from government

“There are members of the Police Force prior to 10.10.10 still waiting for their remuneration and promotions.”

And since government is pumping funds into foundations, Richardson wants to see government have more input in these foundation, especially those that have been benefitting from annual subsidies for years, like the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation, he said.

Arrindell wants to know the source of funds for the St. Maarten Development Fund.

 

 

To the Minister of Vromi she suggested that more durable materials be purchased and utilized for infrastructural development and road markings. She also requested that the Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs provide more details on the new hotel for St. Maarten , tourism promotion initiatives, the setting up of the Tourism Authority and the redevelopment of Mullet Bay.

An update of the copyright office to derive additional revenue and the cessation of unfriendly business license process, were also requested of the minister.

Public Health Minister Cornelius de Weever was asked to provide more information on how government payment backlog to the SZV would be handled via the budget. Arrindell also questioned whether the decision to outsource the medical insurance administration has been cost effective.

Dr. Richardson indicated that while at last month’s Ipko meeting in the Netherlands, Parliamentarians spoke with several loan agencies about the possibility of securing a loan for the development of the St. Maarten Medical Centre.

Yesterday, he requested that either the Public Health Minister or the Minister of General Affairs provide information on whether they had received any feedback or proposals from financial institutions based on the queries of the parliamentarians.

Individuals are in need of new organs but people are falling “victim to the dialysis machine”, Laville said earlier in the meeting.

He charged the Public Health Minister to do whatever was in the best interest of the St. Maarten Medical Center, adding that the minister has the desire, “but not the tools” to develop the medical facility.

Dr. Richardson suggested that the St. Maarten initiate an organ donor program by joining a donor bank that will allow the country to spend less money on transplant operations.

He also queried whether the National Health Insurance, which is not featured in this year’s budget, would be feasible and whether the projections made on the collection of premiums were realistic.

The Education Minister was asked her views on the payment of school fees and what the bottlenecks are in the education system, by Arrindell. The Member of Parliament wondered whether examinations in different languages are part of the problem.

She also requested updated statistics on the results of scholarship students, the amount of students that are abroad and the average student occupancy per classroom on St. Maarten.

Arrindell requested that the Finance Minister give an explanation as to why he ignored the advice of the Ser and implemented the new road tax policy in its present form, as well as how the minister intended to increase road tax compliance.

“What structural measures to strengthen the financial management of the Ministry of Finance, are there?” Arrindell added.

A status update on the division of assets and liabilities, the new currency for St. Maarten and an opinion of the Minister of General Affairs on the recommendation of the Ser to step out of the monetary union,” was also asked by Arrindell.

“It’s about time that we put an end to the uncertainty,” she stated.

She also sought clarification on whether the government’s integrity program for civil servants is also applicable to ministers.

She suggested that all other draft government documents that are submitted to parliament be placed on the institution’s website and be made more understandable for citizens.

Ministers are expected to return to parliament today at 1 p.m. to respond to the questions posed by parliamentarians on the 2013 Draft Budget.

 

 

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