St. Maarten Council of Ministers sticks to 461 million guilders budget

POSTED: 03/18/11 2:09 PM

St. Maarten – The Council of Ministers sticks to its position that the 2011 budget remains at 461 million guilders, even though the financial supervisor Cft says that there is a 45 million guilders deficit. “The projected expenditures cannot be decreased by 45 million “without letting the level of facilities sink below all acceptable standards.”

The Council of Ministers considers the budget balanced with projected state revenue of 416 million, a 20 million advance on the settlement of the division of assets, and 32 million from the country’s reserves.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams writes in a March 11th letter to the Cft that the council of Ministers is aware of the fact that structural measures are necessary to balance the multi-annual budget. She also points out that St. Maarten made significant investments in its organization and in institutions like the ombudsman, the general audit chamber, the parliament and the corporate governance council.

Wescot-Williams wrote that the 461 million guilders-budget includes 25 million for projects and plans of approach, and almost 15 million for additional payments on pensions and salaries. “Lowering the budget to 416 million while maintaining these expenditures is irresponsible and will harm the execution of government tasks.”

The Prime Minister also indicates that the individual ministers have not yet been entrusted with their own financial responsibilities. New financial obligations need the approval of the Finance Minister. “This centralized approach is a form of supervision in itself.”

Wescot-Williams also announced in the letter the appointment of a budget guardian, without elaborating on the exact function of this guard dog of St. Maarten’s financial affairs.

The Council of Ministers maintains that the financial supervisor can only get access to the annual accounts of government-owned companies via the finance minister, “who will cooperate.”

The corporate governance council, Wescot-Williams wrote, has indicated “that the Cft is venturing onto its field of activity and that this is not advisable.”

The Council of Ministers firmly opposes assistance by a team of experts from the Netherlands. “We want to point out to you that Dutch experts that were deployed in the period 1993-2003 as so-called technical assistants had an effect opposite to the desired result. St. Maarten will have to develop itself on its own power.”

The Council of Ministers will install a monitoring committee that will be charged with supervising the progress of the process to arrive at a balanced budget. The council suggests that this committee will be made up of the budget guardian, a Cft-member and an independent advisor.

The Council of Ministers ends its three-page letter with two points of criticism and one suggestion. The council is convinced “that the problems surrounding the approval of the 2011 budget are caused by the delay in the appointment of St. Maarten’s member on the Cft-board by the Kingdom Council of Ministers.”

Furthermore, the council makes clear that it prefers to keep dirty laundry inside: “We do not like it when members of the Cft-board make public statements in an unprofessional manner about internal affairs.”

Lastly, the council states that the centralization of the Cft-staff in Curacao hinders “a good understanding of the local situation.” The council finds the establishment of a Cft-office with a professional staff in St. Maarten necessary. “That will make many of the measures you have suggested unnecessary.”

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