MPs quiz government’s lack of social programs

POSTED: 02/23/12 2:42 PM

St. Maarten – Devoid of fiscal solutions to social ills and lack luster is how many parliamentarians on Wednesday described the close to half of a billion guilders budget that was presented by government for the year 2012. Following Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto’s presentation, parliamentarians from all factions questioned what significant injections had been made into the health, education, youth, labor and pension sectors. Each government minister is expected to respond to the questions posed and present their ministry’s program next week before the actual debate begins but parliamentarians appear to have already summed up their position. Leader of the National Alliance (N.A) William Marlin said that the budget fails to paint an accurate picture and does not provide “proper incite to see how St.Maarten stands financially.”

Pensions

Regarding pensioners, Marlin described the situation as “worrisome” since the budget did not appear to cater to the calls for an increase in pension. He requested an overview of how many civil servants have been registered with the pension fund claiming that he received complaints from retired civil servants who go to APNA to collect their funds and are told that they were never registered there even after years of contributions.

United Peoples Party (U.P) parliamentarian Silvia Meyers-Olivacce called for the government to “treat the pensioners with more dignity.”  Echoing similar sentiments, independent member Frans Richardson expressed disbelief that when combined, financial aid and old age pensions accounted for less than one percent (3.2 million) of the total budget.

“There is clearly room for an increase. What is required is a change of priorities…a shift from certain expenses,” Richardson said.

Dr. Lloyd Richardson (N.A) posited that if the suggested increase for pensioners had been taken into account in the budget it would dramatically reduce dependence on the financial and medical assistance systems.

“With an increase, pensioners would be better able to handle their own affairs,” he said.

Louie Laveist (N.A) asked “what is government thinking on examining the sliding scale pension plan that Aruba has adopted. We have a social problem on this island with the high cost of living.”

Youth

Of the 365 thousand guilders that the Ministry of Justice has allotted to tackling youth criminality, Dr. Lloyd Richardson believes that it is an insufficient sum to address acute problems. He cited schools of correction, foster homes and long term rehabilitation programs as some of areas that should have been given priority.

“If we look at the budget I can’t specifically see how it was provided for in this budget for specific facilities that we are in dire need of .I would like to know what is the mind of the ministry when this was put. It doesn’t seem to be infrastructural but programmatic.”

Dr. Richardson also requested clarification on whether there would be cross ministerial budgeting to deal with pressing social issues.

“It shocks me what is being invested via this budget to fight juvenile delinquency,” Laveist said.

Quoting from Central Bureau Statistics unemployment figures of 29.4 percent in 2009, Frans Richardson said that it revealed a crisis among the youth of St.Maarten. He questioned whether any provisions had been put in place to tackle youth unemployment in the budget.

“We should really take our young people to heart,” Up faction leader Romaine Laville declared as he spoke on the issue of unemployment among young people. Laville later presented statistics said to have been gotten from the Economic Affairs ministry which place youth unemployment at 36 percent currently. The startling revelation Laville construes is cause for concern.

“When I look at the social welfare, the issues of pensions…unemployment…these numbers give me cause to pause.”

Meyers-Olivacce said that a solution could be found in concentrating on what the needs of the country are. A revision of the school curriculum, she added could result in young people being properly qualified to fill key positions in the country.

Health

Financial assistance for newborns requiring services at the St.Maarten Medical Centre’s intensive care unit and a new tariff structure for the health ministry were two proposals made by Dr. Lloyd Richardson to deal with the nation’s health challenges. He said that conspicuously absent from the budget was the realization of a higher quality of healthcare to suffice for the social organizations’ calls for equal healthcare within the Kingdom.

“Investing in medical transplants could have also reaped rewards for St. Maarten,” Dr. Richardson said.

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