Former St. Maarten Finance Commissioner Blackman demands decision on retainer paymentsPOSTED: 06/30/11 12:52 PM
St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Former Finance Commissioner Xavier Blackman is entangled in a legal battle with the government over a decision to pay the retainer he is entitled to as a former politician. Blackman submitted his request to receive these benefits on October 5 of last year, but so far the government has not taken a decision; in the meantime, Blackman has been receiving advance payments on an irregular basis.
Government’s failure to take the decision is a so-called “fictitious refusal”. Yesterday, Blackman was in court to demand in summary proceedings that the government takes the formal decision immediately. Judge mr. R.W.J. van Veen will pronounce his decision next week Wednesday at two o’clock.
Blackman’s attorney Mr. D. Brison said that the fictitious refusal is a serious infringement that violates the rules of good governance. He labeled the government’s attitude as haughty and arrogant. “A couple of months ago the current Finance Minister and others involved were Mr. Blackman’s subordinates,” Brison said.
Blackman’s request is based on the National Ordinance Pension Regulation political office holders. The former Commissioner received until December 31 a net pay equal to the salary he received when he was in office. But in the new year payments became irregular. The payment for January was made towards the end of February, and yesterday Blackman said that he was still waiting for his June payment. “Every time he has to call and beg. He has become a beggar, he had gone from gedeputeerde to gedupeerde (from Commissioner to dupe),” Brison said. “The defendant (the finance Minister –ed.) finds all kinds of tricks to thwart payment.”
During the hearing it became clear that former Commissioner Roy Marlin and former Island council member (and former Minister) Maria Buncamper-Molanus also had been to court over their claims based on the National Ordinance Pension Regulation political office holders.
Politicians who have to leave office for one reason or another before their term is up are entitled to financial benefits regulated in the National Ordinance Pension regulation political office holders. Former politicians are entitled to benefits for the duration of their time in office with a minimum of one year and a maximum of two years. The benefits decrease over time from 100 to 70 percent and income the former politicians earn from other jobs during this time are deducted from their benefits.
Brison said that healthcare insurance was also not regulated, and that due to all this his client has trouble meeting his obligations. “He submitted his request nine months ago and still there is no decision,” he said. Brison asked the court to suspend the fictitious refusal and to order the government to pay.
mr. R.F. Gibson Jr., who acted for the Justice Minister in the case, conceded that Blackman had filed the request. “We expect to take a decision next week,” he said.
Gibson also argued that the national ordinance that regulates pensions and benefits only recognizes ministers, ministers of plenipotentiary and Members of the Parliament as political office holders. “The plaintiff has never been a minister and he cannot call upon the pension regulation for country St. Maarten, because that ordinance went into effect on October 10. The plaintiff was a commissioner and he stepped down before that date.”
Blackman said after the court hearing that the ordinance of 2006 that was in place before October 10 for political office holders of the island territory of St. Maarten is identical to the new national ordinance.
mr. Gibson showed the court an overview of the monthly payments that have been made so far. “It is unclear to the finance minister why we are here in court today,” mr. Gibson said. He concluded that the request should be declared inadmissible and asked for an immediate ruling.
mr. Gibson also stated that the ordinance entitles recipients to benefits, but not to health care insurance. However, article 4 of the ordinance entitles politicians who leave office to benefits equal to the regular components of their salary – and the ordinance does not exclude health care insurance.
“I have worked long enough in government to know how procedures are not followed,” Blackman told the court. He said that he is a former political office holder, according to the definition in the 2006 ordinance.
“I am now receiving advance payments without a formal order. And it is not so that I am being paid regularly. April was paid during the first week of May.”
Blackman said that the finance ministry’s Secretary General Sherry Hazel had let told him: “It says nowhere in the law that we have to pay you monthly.” The former commissioner responded; “You are not going to tell me with dry eyes that I have to accept a lunchroom allowance, or a payment in installments?”
Recently, Blackman received an email telling him that on June 20 an advice about his case had been sent to Finance Minister Shigemoto. “I am asking for a ruling now,” Blackman said. “I have obligations. I cannot go to GEBE and say, wait a little while until I get paid. But the position of the ministry is: don’t nag, just wait.”
Outside the courtroom Blackman said that it is remarkable that the ministry announced during the court hearing that it is about to take a decision next week, while all his requests over the past nine months have fallen on deaf ears..