Carty: “Citizens have to become whistleblowers”

POSTED: 08/24/11 5:54 PM

Chamber of Commerce wish list for governing program

St. Maarten – “Citizens have to become whistleblowers,” Chamber of Commerce President Glen Carty said at a press conference yesterday where the Chamber gave an update on its talks with the government about a range of issues. Carty and Executive Director Claret Connor said that the Chamber is awaiting the presentation of the government program in September, expecting that it will address most of the issues it discussed with the Council of Ministers.
Carty said that looking at what goes wrong is not helpful. “We admitted that the private sector needs to look in the mirror as well. We need to find common ground for all stakeholders.”
One of the sore points the Chamber has made over the years is that not all companies that are doing business in St. Maarten are paying their taxes. “We want a broad tax base so that the innocent do not have to pay for the guilty,” Carty said.
The Chamber established in the past that there are 4,000 companies with a Crib-number, but that it has 7,000 companies in its registers. The 3,000 companies without a crib-number are not paying taxes. On top, there are an unknown number of companies without a crib-number that are also not registered at the Chamber.
Carty said that the Chamber stands for good corporate citizenship. In this context he called on citizens to become whistleblowers. “If you buy goods from a store or a company, demand a receipt that has the company’s name on it. If you don’t get it, demand it, and if you still don’t get it, report that company to the tax office,” Carty said.
Among these issues the Chamber wants to see addressed in the governing program are better service from government agencies, an ungraded infrastructure, a cleaner island and a focused marketing effort to sell the island. “Competitive air fare is also lacking,” Carty said.
The Chamber also wants attention for the crime situation, which Carty described as “shocking,” and for a revamp of the tax system.
“We accepted the implementation of the additional 2 percent turnover tax, but in return we demanded from the government that by the end of the year it makes sure that everybody is paying his taxes,” Carty said. “The Chamber took some flak for that position, but we will keep asking the government what it is doing to revamp the tax structure.”
The Chamber President said that efforts must be made to keep as much money as possible in the island economy. Two years ago, this newspaper reported that foreign workers send home $19 million every year. Proposals to tax these remittances in order to keep at least a part of that money in St. Maarten never caught on.
The Chamber finds it’s high time that the government addresses issues like the high cost of living, food-prices and utilities-rates.
Another point brought forward during a meeting with the Council of Ministers is cooperation with the French side. “We need a real working relationship with the French side,” Carty said. “Every year in November we go to the border and take pictures. But what we really need to do is working together.”
The Chamber is also pushing for the re-instatement of tri-partite meetings between the private sector, the unions and the government. While the Chamber received a copy of the island’s 2011 budget, Carty said that he also would like to be involved in the 2012 budget that is still a work in progress at the moment. Lastly, Carty said, a campaign is needed to establish pride in country St. Maarten.
Chamber director Claret Connor added that the governing program not just needs to address the issues brought up by the Chamber; it also must contain scenarios with target dates. Connor said that he is setting up a meeting with the Justice Minister Duncan to discuss the crime situation, and that there is a need for an aggressive campaign to promote St. Maarten. He also indicated that the Tourism Authority is “high on the government’s priorities-list.
Carty said that the government accountant bureau BAB has announced it will audit 35 companies in St. Maarten, and he welcomed the initiative. “But let them audit companies that have never been audited before. We know there are companies on the island that keep a double bookkeeping, those are the companies they ought to go after.”
Carty declined to identify these companies, but he insisted that the Chamber, and he personally, would act as good corporate citizen and report irregularities that come to light to the proper authorities.
However, Carty does not feel for an approach akin to the behavior of a bull in a China shop. “The idea is not to kill businesses. If they cannot pay their taxes, a payment-system needs to be worked out. On the other hand, companies that do pay their taxes, expect good service in return.”
Carty said that companies are obliged to register at the Chamber of Commerce, and that violating the relevant legislation carries a maximum penalty of 50,000 guilders. “We could send out marshals to do controls and fine every company that is not registered,” Carty said. “But we prefer to call on people’s responsibility and hope that this is not necessary. However, the day may come that we have to do this.”
Both Conner and Carty realize that it costs money to address all the issues they have brought to the government’s attention. “We do not expect everything to be fixed in one day. This is a journey and we want to make sure that we are heading in the right direction.”

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