Government working to cushion effect of Amfo closure

POSTED: 02/21/13 9:05 AM

St. Maarten – As the fears of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) heighten over the closure of Antillean co-financing agency (Amfo), the government is assuring that the St. Maarten Development Fund (SDF) will soon be prepared to cushion the effect. In the early life of the fund, the government plans to inject money from the 2013 budget but a lottery will also be set up, the proceeds of which will go to the SDF to fund social programs.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams during yesterday’s Council of Ministers press conference said that the SDF’s signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Amfo is a step in the right direction. The MOU formalizes the relationship between the agencies who have committed to sharing information and expertise.

“For many years Amfo was the agency that administrated Dutch funding for NGOs for social programs. Over the years Amfo has built up a very good administration regarding funding on St. Maarten. They have all of the information on non-governmental organizations on the island.  It’s a step in the right direction that we now have this MOU. The two agencies will work closely together and Amfo will share the information that they have with the St. Maarten Development Fund,” the prime minister said.

SDF can attract funds for social projects from anywhere that is feasible however a significant amount of its funds will be sourced from the government directly.

Although the prime minister declined to give the amount that has been budgeted for the SDF, she did indicate that the allocation has to be slashed by half in order to balance the budget.

“We had to cut it down, like we had to do with every post in order to balance the budget. Nevertheless what has been budgeted for the SDF can get us quite a long way as we continue to structure the funding for the social sector. I say this to allay the fears that are out there.”

The SDF, through a subsidy from government had been able to rent office space in the Yogesh Building. It will soon begin meeting with non-governmental organizations following which a program will be put in place in terms of how funds will be disbursed.

Several organizations will also continue to receive direct funding from the government budget, the prime minister added.

She further highlighted the fact that not all of the agencies funded by Amfo have had their funds terminated already.

“It is an ongoing process and different organizations have different dates of termination.”

In the meantime, the prime minister says that Amfo is working along with SDF to ensure a smooth transition in terms of projects that would have been given priority by Amfo in the past.

“It is a priority that comparisons of agenda take place between the SDF and Amfo so that priority can be given to those whose subsidies are coming to an end in March and the like.  Then solutions can be sought with the NGOS in order to bridge the period of time during which we might not yet have the funding,” the prime minister noted.

Much of this hinges on the handling and passage of the budget. However Finance Minister Roland Tuitt said that “once a budget is not approved, the budget from the year before is used as the basis. So if funds have to be dispersed to the organizations, it can be dispersed.”

Lottery

On the matter of the lottery which will be used to generate funds for the SDF, the prime minister said that it could be a state or semi state lottery but a management structure has not yet been discussed.  However its entire establishment may need legislation.

Minister Tuitt wants to see procedures for the lottery’s establishment in place by July. The government plans to look at a similar model in Aruba, to see if it can be adopted on St. Maarten.

And with all of the lotteries already existing on the island, Tuitt said that the social projects lottery will have a clear competitive edge.

“The edge will be that you are giving back to social projects. The other lotteries are for profit. With this one all of the excess funds outside of operational costs will be for social projects.”

 

 

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