Inaction at Finance Ministry cost 80 million in debt relief payments

POSTED: 10/18/11 12:19 PM

St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Inaction at Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto’s Ministry has cost St. Maarten approximately 80 million guilders ($44.7 million) in debt relief payments. The fired head of the finance department, Bas Roorda, explained how this came about in an email to this newspaper.
On Friday, Today published allegations made by former Finance Commissioner Xavier Blackman at Shigemoto’s address. This weekend, Shigemoto dismissed the allegations, claiming “an impeccable record.”
Also on Friday, Today reported that a row with the government accountant bureau Soab had frustrated the debt relief program, because the Soab’s audit manager drs. Marvel Hooi refused to approve 27 claims.
Roorda explained in his email that these dossiers were already in limbo when he started working for the island territory in December 2009. To qualify for debt relief the balances in the government administration and those at its creditors had to match – and they didn’t. “Hooi was waiting for a confirmation about the outstanding balances. That confirmation did not come, because none of these balances matched,” Roorda wrote, adding that all this happened under Shigemoto’s responsibility as Director Resources. “He did not do anything about it and left everything to an administrative assistant who, by the way, was doing the best she could.”
Roorda wrote that he started working the 27 dossiers because he knew from Kingdom Relations that 10-10-10 was the deadline for payment. “Because we did not manage to get these dossiers in order, I contacted the large creditors (TelEm, UTS, Vlaun and others) and asked if they wanted to make their approved annual accounts available to enable us to present at least a balance that had been checked by an accountant. The directors of these companies are able to confirm this.”
Roorda wrote that St. Maarten hasn’t had an approved annual account for years. A letter from the General Audit Chamber of the former Netherlands Antilles, dated August 14, 2008, confirms this. In that letter, the Audit Chamber withholds its approval for the annual accounts of 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. One of the bones of contention over these years is a post marked “unauthorized expenditures.”
Kingdom Relations was positive about the solution Roorda proposed. “But Hooi refused to cooperate, in spite of a letter from State Secretary Bijleveld that approved this approach,” Roorda wrote. When the Soab gave a negative advice about the 27 debts, Roorda got on his case. “I expressed my dissatisfaction in no uncertain terms with a copy to his superior Geomali Martes. Hooi was angry about that. This way St. Maarten’s economy missed out on many millions.”
But in December of last year Minister Shigemoto signed off on the debts with the Soab’s negative advice. “His cabinet would send the dossiers to Kingdom Relations in The Hague. I had found an opening and they were prepared to have another look at them. When I asked in February of this year for a reaction, they told me they had not received anything. And then it turned out that the dossiers were still at Shigemoto’s cabinet. In February they were sent to The Hague but by then it was too late.”
A source at Kingdom Relations familiar with these events was not immediately available for a comment yesterday.
Roorda wrote that the budgets have been transferred to the general resources. “There is no chance that the approximately 80 million guilders will still be paid out due to the budget cuts and the sentiments in the Second Chamber.”
Roorda wrote that Minister Shigemoto is still making attempts to get this money to balance the budget. “He is now looking for a scapegoat to disguise his own failure. The beauty is that the person who was operationally responsible in the past is now politically responsible. It is now up to the parliament to speak out.”

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