Opinion: Sleeping politicians

POSTED: 01/9/14 11:11 PM

St. Maarten has been shooting itself in the foot for years. Not with a hunting rifle of course, and not with a Glock the government accidentally found in the bushes. This is about money. The decision by the government to impose a local driving license on visitors that chose St. Maarten as their temporary home – as many timeshare owners do – at a cost of roughly $28 a pop reveals how sloppy previous government have been.

After all, the legislation is on the books. The possibility to issue a driving license with a validity of at most three months is regulated in a national ordinance. Still, year after year after year, nobody in the government woke up to this fact. And nobody thought about using this regulation to get some money in the bank.

The fee temporary visitors to the island would have to pay is just 50 Antillean guilders, or close to $28. On a three-month stay, that is a levy of what? – 31 dollar cents a day? It’s a joke.

Oh, but wait a minute, what are we saying? The government expects that 150,000 tourists would need to obtain such a driving license. Time 50 bucks (Antillean bucks, that is) it adds up to 7.5 million guilders. Now we’re talking.

So if consecutive governments – never kind their signature – let this go for, let’s say, the past thirteen years, our sleeping politicians have cost the treasury 97.5 million guilders. That’s gross income of course, because the government figures now that it will need 2.5 million guilders a year to collect this money. That still leaves 65 million in missed income over the past thirteen years.

This is of course fictional money, we understand that. But we cannot help wondering: how many more of these “forgotten” regulations are on the books that could help the country financially forward?

The next thing is of course: will this government be able to collect that money this year? Conservatively, the finance ministry estimates that if will be able to collect 2.2 million this year. But this requires the establishment of a task force consisting of employees from amongst other the police. It is not like the police officers have nothing to do, and it is not like they would not want to do this job. But at the same time, overtime pay for police officers has been cut in the budget by 50 percent. How is that going to affect the results?

No matter what, finding this little nugget is a boon for the country. The legislation is in place, all we have to do is collect the money. Yet, questions remain. A Dutch driving license is valid in St. Maarten. Will holders of such licenses be held to pay the driving license fee as well when they rent a car? And what about people who do not rent a car, but who drive a family vehicle with – for instance – an international driving license? Is a French driving license still valid on the Dutch side? How do we determine that someone is temporarily in St. Maarten?

It’s not that we want to make any trouble. We’re just stuck with these questions and for now, there do not seem to be any answers. Maybe the budget debate will offer

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