Opinion: Prinsjesdag

POSTED: 09/13/11 12:59 PM

Next week Tuesday it’s that time of the year again in the Netherlands. It’s the third Tuesday in September, the opening of the parliamentary year and the moment when the finance minister offers the budget for the New Year to the Parliament. Even the Queen comes out to play, complete with the traditional ride in the Golden Carriage and of course with the Queen’s speech, or the Troonrede in Dutch.
Never has a Finance Minister in the Netherlands arrived at the Ridderzaal with his traditional briefcase having to admit that it was actually empty. It always contains the budget for the new year.
This is however the fate that has befallen our own Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto. First of all, he should have already submitted the 2012 draft budget to the Parliament before September 1, but that has not happened. The financial supervisor does not expect to see it real soon either.
So in this respect, the opening of our parliamentary year will be a ceremonial event without substance. Maybe we’ll hear about the plans the government has and we have to admit: that’s something we’re good at in St. Maarten. Plans.
For instance, there is a plan for a ring road, but there is no ring road. Heavy equipment operators happily dumped a lot of sand in the Great salt Pond and that was immediately the end of the exercise. There is no money to finish the road, nor are there plans to make a race around the pond part of the next edition of Paris-Dakar. A pity, that is.
Then there is a plan for a waste processing plant, but there is no waste processing plant. Also a matter of money, which seems to be more important that public health concerns. Already in 2007 the story was that the landfill was “nearing the end of its life cycle” – a daft way of saying that soon we’ll be drowning in our own rubbish because there’s no space left to dump it. But four years later, garbage trucks happily add to the pile and decisions about the plant seem to be in eternal limbo.
We also remember plans for a cricket stadium, a drag racing strip in the Great Salt Pond, a bridge over troubled water, and an action to clean up the whole island before Easter.
But now we’re heading into a new parliamentary year without a budget and with long forgotten plans. When that budget finally materializes, it will have a hole large enough to sail the Johan de Witt through it, at least, that’s what we’re hearing. As the Greeks say, there is no shame in having a little budget deficit and on this point we wholeheartedly agree.
The Netherlands is unable to balance its budget, and so are America and probably five hundred other nations with the exception of Saudi Arabia. Does anybody care? It is almost laughable how countries that hold the world record in budget deficits are preaching to the world about sound financial management. Okay, forget the word almost in the previous sentence.
Having said that, a bit of sound financial management won’t hurt of course, but in the Caribbean setting it is hard to come by. The problem is not that our decision makers are handling their money worse than their brethren elsewhere in the world; then truth is that it is impossible to beat the Greeks and the Americans – to name just two random examples – at their own game.
So where do we go from here, with no budget and with a deficit lurking in a dark corner of Shigemoto’s department? Full force ahead, of course. We won’t touch the salaries of our parliamentarians, or their fringe benefits, and we’re not going to cut down on foreign travel either.
Instead, we keep our institutions, like the Ombudsman and a few others on a short leash and we keep the man who is supposed to represent St. Maarten in the Council of State in the Netherlands at home. It cheaper of course, but is it also sound financial management?

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