Little opposition to 2016 draft budgetPOSTED: 03/2/16 12:55 PM
MP Tamara Leonard: “I feel like we have to take a hit too.” Photo Today / Milton Pieters
St. Maarten News – The parliament seemed to be going in record tempo through the debate about the draft 2016 budget yesterday. By 6.35 p.m. all speakers had put in their two cents in the first round; only nine MPs used their right to address the issue. Shortly after 7 p.m., parliament’s President Sarah Wescot-Williams adjourned the meeting to this afternoon at 2 p.m. to give ministers time to gather date for answering questions.
The opposition against the budget came mainly from independent MP Cornelius de Weever and on a different level from MPs Tamara Leonard (UP) and independent Leona Marlin-Romeo.
The MPs rattled off a large number of questions that touched upon anything and everything, from the deal about the new government administration building and subsidy cuts to Tamara Leonard’s passionate plea for taking a salary cut and questions about ways to increase government revenue. All in all in seemed after the first round that this budget will sail through the parliament in a heartbeat.
Dr. Lloyd Richardson was the first MP to speak. He briefly addressed the sale of the government administration building to SZV ad noticed that there is not a big buffer in the budget to execute plans. “It will take extreme vigilance to achieve what has been planned. We can do better,” he said.
Dr. Richardson noticed that the government depends on the proper functioning of non-governmental organizations and that the across the board subsidy cuts of 10 percent could affect their functioning. “There have been no discussions with these organizations, while there programs were already set,” he pointed out.
Dr. Richardson said that the requirements in the subsidy ordinance are obsolete. He referred in particular to the heavy financial burden the production of audited financials puts on the organizations.
The MP asked why Curacao cannot get an instruction to pay St. Maarten its rightful share in the division of assets of the former Netherlands Antilles. He urged his colleagues to make work of plans for a new parliament building, wondered who collected taxes from gypsy cab drivers and suggested to build government-owned dorms for students studying in the Netherlands.
UP faction leader Franklin Meyers asked how far the government is with renaming the Princess Juliana International Airport into the Vance James Jr. International Airport. “And what is the situation with Regina Labega? I hear rumors that Ted Richardson will become the new airport director.”
Meyers furthermore asked about the progress with the fixed base operations facility at the airport. He also inquired about the benefits of the monetary union with Curacao. “How does this affect St. Maarten and does it behoove us to get out of that union? Are we going towards dollarization or will we maintain the guilder?”
MP Tamara Leonard (UP) maintained her objection that the budget does not contain proposals for new revenue streams.
To gauge the impact of the regatta and carnival, Leonard asked for a breakdown of stayover visitors to the island in the months of March, April, May and June over the past three years.
She expressed her amazement over the fact that the Integrity Bureau is listed as having an office in the Yogesh Building on Bush Road. “Who occupies that office?” she asked.
Addressing her announcement that she would submit a motion to decrease the salaries for MPs from 19,000 to 12,000 guilders per month, MP Leonard noted that she had been told this motion would be “dead on arrival.”
Still, she did not back down: “”If social organizations have to take a hit, why cannot we take a hit too?” she said. “I feel like we need to take a hit too.”
Independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo asked what the different ministries are doing to increase revenue and whether they have outstanding collectibles. She criticized Minister Gibson: “This minister seems to have a vision but a vision without action is just a dream. Words without action are meaningless.”
Furthermore, the MP asked what happens to government assets that disappear into foundations (like the Sundial school and the university) and what the harbor and the airport spend on marketing. She also asked an explanation about the huge difference in population numbers between the civil registry (38,000) and the number used by the Bureau for Statistics (58,000).
Marlin-Romeo also tackled the matter of undocumented children in the school system. “We cannot continue to build schools for this group,” she said, asking the minister of justice to put pressure on the ministries of justice and education to take action.
Other questions concerned the crime fund (“How much money is in it and how much was there before 10-10-10?”), the rumors about a floating casino in the harbor (“Is a license granted?”) the fire department (“Is it taking the government to court?”) and the number of uninsured people on the island.
Marlin-Romeo suggested introducing a monthly school bus fee of $8 (“That would generate more than $900,000 a year”), but this later met with a rebuke from MP Rodolphe Samuel: “If parents are unable to put breakfast on the table for their children, they will not be able to afford such a fee.”
Independent MP Cornelius de Weever built in a thinly veiled barb in his questions with a remark that “a hotel near the Westin is not employing any locals.” The hotel this refers to is the Princess Heights luxury boutique hotel, where Public Health Minister Emil Lee was the manager.
De Weever noted that companies are changing their hiring practices by switching to job placement agencies. He wondered about the status of the changes to the civil code that aim to address the perceived problem with short term labor contracts.
An interesting question was about the waste-to-energy project: “What is the byproduct of this process and how do we get rid of it?”
MP Rodolphe Samuel expressed his disappointment about the developments at Nipa, the National Institute for Professional Advancement, especially about the possibility that a court case (about the dismissal of director Vernon /Richards – ed.) could cost the school as much as 280,000 guilders.
Samuel asked attention for military service as it is applied in Curacao and Aruba. And wanted to know what its status in St. Maarten is.
Seemingly reacting to the celebration of Independence Day by residents from the Dominican
Republic on Sunday, Samuel said that “others are apparently able to raise their flag higher than our own. Can they do this without the St. Maarten flag?”
The MP said that it would take a lot to convince him that dollarization is good for St. Maarten. “It will profit the businessman who does business abroad with dollar-to-dollar transactions. I have indications that this would be bad for St. Maarten, but I welcome the discussion.”