Minister Hassink’s mission impossible in The Hague: “I do not think I will get the instruction off the table”

POSTED: 09/1/15 12:49 PM


THE HAGUE – Finance Minister Martin Hassink was in The Hague this week, because next week the Kingdom Council of Ministers threatens to impose an instruction on the country in its meeting of September 4, Pieter Hofmann reports on Caribisch Netwerk.

The reason for the looming instruction is that the board financial supervision (Cft) gave a negative advice about the 2015 budget. Hassink does not think that he will get the instruction off the table, but he intends to convey the position of his government. The most important issue for St. Maarten is the ability to make the necessary investments.

According to the Cft, St. Maarten has budgeted too much revenue for 2015. Hassink: “We have managed to counter that objection by showing that we will most probably make it.”

According to the minister, the water company and the bureau telecommunication will bring in more revenue, as will dividends from government-owned companies. Those companies are now more transparent than they used to be, Hassink said.

The government is faced with high expenditures for pension premiums and social premiums and civil servants are a heavy burden to the budget. Hassink: “Almost 50 percent of the complete budget is for direct personnel costs. Next to that, we have subsidized educational institutions. I do not know whether this is extraordinary for a small island, but we have to take measures.” Hassink declined to mention specific measures.

A large part of the salary expenditures is for overtime. Hassink: “The largest part goes to the ministries of justice and general affairs. They claim to be understaffed. You could manage that by hiring more people, but you have to be careful with that.”

At the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten and the Netherlands agreed that the Netherlands would absorb 180 million guilders of the country’s debts. Five years later, the Netherlands has only paid a much lower amount – 60 million. “Before my time as a minister, things went wrong in the process of submitting claims. The Hague decided unilaterally: forget it. This way we missed out on a substantial amount of money, even though this is anchored in the law.”

Will he claim this money again? “The question remains how strong such a unilateral decision really is. But no, I will not talk about this during my visit to the Netherlands. We are contemplating our position on this issue.”

Hassink maintains however that the debt-free starting position St. Maarten was promised on 10-10-10 has never materialized. “You have to look at the kingdom law financial supervision from that perspective.”

The looming instruction makes it impossible for St. Maarten to make certain investments, Hassink says. “The tax inspectorate was before 10-10-10 a responsibility of the central government. They never made sufficient resources available to bring that department to a decent level. We need an enormous investment to increase our revenue and to balancer our budget. Right now we are in a vicious circle because we are unable to make those investments.”

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