Hassink: “Certain plans cannot be executed in 2014” – Public Health Ministry hit hard by budget cuts

POSTED: 12/13/13 4:26 PM

St. Maarten – Finance Minister Martin Hassink disagrees with the content of the letter financial supervisor Cft sent him on December 3 with a warning that the 2013 budget could close with a 13 million guilders deficit. “They look at this in a different way and I think they do not look at it the proper way,” the minister said at yesterday’s press briefing where he maintained that government revenue for the year would total 423 million guilders. The Cft projects in its December 3-letter revenue of 410 million guilders.

On a different note, Minister Hassink said that the Central Committee could handle the 2014 draft budget in a meeting on December 19, followed by handling in parliament on December 20. “If that is not possible, the earliest next option is January 13,” he said.

Currently the budget is at the Council of Advice. Hassink expects its advice today. “Then I’ll have to prepare an additional report that will go to the Council of Ministers for approval – and from there to the Central Committee and the parliament.”

Hassink said that he had been forced to spend a lot of time on the 2013 budget since he took office in the summer. “Otherwise the 2014 budget would have been approved a long time ago.”

The draft 2014 budget balances at 427 million guilders. Hassink described it as “a minimum budget” and noted “that certain plans cannot be executed in 2014.” A review of the figures provided by the minister show that the Ministry of Public health, Social Affairs and Labor is the hardest hit by budget cuts: instead of 78 million guilders, the ministry will have to get by with 55 million in 2014 – a drop of 29.4 percent. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports gets to endure a 7 million-guilder budget cut (from 123 to 116 million) and the justice ministry (63 million) has to give up 4 million guilders compared to last year. Tourism and Economic Affairs drops 1 million to 27 million.

General Affairs (74 million) gets 5 million more to spend, while Finance (41), Vromi (34) and the parliament and other high councils of state (17) are pinned on the same budget ads 2013.

“All ministries have to do their utmost to save costs,” Minister Hassink said. “The Cft has given a preliminary advice. The board has asked for more proof with regard to some income items. The legislation to make that income materialize has to be in place, either next week or in early 2014.”

Referring to the third quarter execution report, Hassink maintained that revenue for the year will total 423 million guilders.

Up to the third quarter, state revenue totaled 317 million –mostly taxes. Turnover tax (110 million) and wage taxes (100 million) bring in the bulk. Fees and licenses netted 55 million guilders and the rest came from profit tax (20 million), room tax and other taxes.

During the same period, the country spent 2 million more than it collected: 319 million. Most money goes to salaries (135 million), followed by goods and services (77), subsidies (58) and social charges (33).

As the Cft noted in its December 3-letter, the country’s liquidity position is worrisome. “At the end of 2011 we had 84 million in reserves,” Hassink disclosed. “Now we have 24 million. This has to do with the financing of capital expenditures and also with the fact that we did not receive all funds from the debt relief program.”

The minister said that the 2012 financial statement will soon be ready and that work on the 2015 budget will begin in early 2014.

Hassink expressed his disappointment about the lack of progress in the integration of the receiver’s office and the tax office. “This is a process of one to two years,” he said, adding that the concept established in Bonaire is the example he wants to follow. Block D, the building that  was never started next to the new government administration building should be ready for the new tax organization by January 1, 2015, Hassink said.

On Tuesday, Hassink met at the airport for twenty minutes with Finance State Secretary Frans Weekers to discuss Dutch assistance with the integration project. “There is one condition to that assistance – the turnover tax on goods that are shipped from St. Maarten to Saba and Statia,” Hassink said. “The Netherlands would like to see that we eliminate. We are willing to look at it. If it is not too damaging to us, it’s okay, but if it is going to cost us too much money we should not do it.”



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