Opinion: Technical excuses

POSTED: 01/13/12 11:52 AM

It all looked chipper when parties signed the so-called Slotakkoord on November 2, 2006. For clarity’s sake: this document carries the signature of our current Prime Minister on behalf of St. Maarten. With autonomy, our island would get a good financial starting position; at least that is the mantra we heard for years until it suddenly disappeared mysteriously after 10-10-10.

St. Maarten was to get a maximum of 183 million guilders in debt relief from the Netherlands. So far our government only received 65 million. The rest is stuck, Prime Minister Wescot-Williams said this week, due to all kinds of technical excuses.

Wow, this created the impression that those darn Dutch promised us something and that they are now piling on the excuses to make sure that money stays in The Hague. Words like slavery or slave master have not been used yet in this discussion, though we don’t guarantee anything for what’s being said behind closed doors.

The chapter about debt relief in the Slotakkoord (or Final Statement) begins with a lofty remark: “To create a healthy starting position attention will be paid to debt restructuring. In this context the Netherlands will offer a solution for the debt problems.”

The Dutch were not born yesterday, so they were not writing a blank check here. Article 2 about debt relief states: “The Netherlands is prepared to restructure the consolidated debt of the new entities Curacao and St. Maarten to the level of the interest charge standard.”

But there were more conditions: St. Maarten had to prove that a debt existed, before the Netherland was prepared to fork over the dough. And that’s where things went terribly wrong. The island’s financial administration was a mess (and according to a Cft report from the Pefa work group this is still the case) and the General Audit Chamber of the Netherlands Antilles has never approved the island’s annual accounts.

The Netherlands was prepared to be a bit flexible, but with all the flexibility the bean counters in The Hague could muster, there was still no way for St. Maarten to make it even plausible that debts to the maximum amount of 183 million guilders ever existed.

In a way, the government is now paying the price for years of neglect. The Dutch are not making “technical excuses” for not paying up, our government has simply been unable to present a decent account to claim even a part of the remaining 118 million guilders.

It is interesting to see that the government is now also putting as spin on the reason why we have financial supervision. The first term of this supervision ends on 10-10-15. But it is not at all sure that St. Maarten will be free of financial supervision after that date. The government has a lot of work to do to put its financial administration in order and to show that it masters the art of financial and fiscal discipline to a level that will convince the Kingdom that it is able to do everything on its own.

And sure, people are working on improvements, or so we hear, but that song is getting old. The Cft and the Kingdom Council of Ministers want to see tangible results. For the time being those results are not there, but then, we still have almost four years to go to put our house in order.

That requires a lot of energy and it is better to spend it there, than on fabricating stories about technical excuses as an explanation for why the Dutch are not giving St. Maarten some more million from the debt relief program.

Mind you, the money is still there, parked on an obscure account at the Central Bank in Amsterdam we assume, but there is no way the government is going to get it – unless a politician comes up with a very clever plan. We’ve heard that there are options, but we challenge our Finance Minister to figure out what the key is to solving this situation. It’s not easy, but as we said, we heard that it is possible.

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