St. Maarten Parliament approves 2014 budget

POSTED: 01/17/14 12:45 PM

St. Maarten – The parliament approved the 2014 budget yesterday evening after two days of marathon meetings with the support of the UP-DP coalition and the vote of independent MP Frans Richardson. At press time the meeting was still in progress.

The parliament passed three motions tabled by Democratic Party faction leader Roy Marlin yesterday. The first motion resolves that the parliament cuts its budget for travel expenses this year from 750,000 guilders to a maximum of 375,000 guilders and that parliamentarians will limit their travel to Parlatino meetings to make sure they do not exceed this budget.

Parliament wants to use the savings from this measure to increase the subsidies for four non-governmental organizations. The beneficiaries mentioned in the motion are the Charlotte Brookson Academy, carnival, the regatta and the Video X Games.

The motion tasks the ministers of Tourism and Economic Affairs and the Minister of Education with informing the parliament how the money will be divided over the four organizations.

The second motion asks the shareholder representative of Gebe (Vromi-Minister Maurice Lake) “to ensure that the operational loss subsidy Gebe paid for the operations of Saba and Statia goes directly towards the decrease of the fixed cost charged by Gebe to residential customers.”

The third motion, an initiative of MP Patrick Illidge but presented by MP Roy Marlin, asks the government to explore the possibility of acquiring three parcels of land in Middle Region this year and to use the land for the construction of a community center.

The sellers of the land are heirs of the late Senator Bovina Ellis. Their only condition to the sale is that the future community center be named after Mrs. Ellis.

The meeting began with answers from the cabinet ministers to questions parliamentarians had asked in the first round. In the second round, MPs revisited issues they brought up on Wednesday, but mostly it was politics 101. With the upcoming elections in mind, many of the MPs grabbed the opportunity to ride their pet topics to the max, without paying much heed to the actual budget.

Finance Minister Martin Hassink said in the early going of the meeting that there are discussions going on with several casinos about their arrears in payments. “There are discrepancies between the books of the casinos and the books of the government.”

Justice Minister Dennis Richardson noted that the budget cuts at his ministry will go at the expense of “human resources, overtime, travel and training.” Reacting to the question whether the Justice Park is dead, the minister said that elements from the discarded plan “will take place I other areas.” He mentioned the expansion of the prison and the construction of the youth detention center in Cay Bay.

Minister Richardson said that his ministry will also increase the pressure to make sure people pay their fines. Another initiative affects businesses. “All businesses that are considered a risk for money laundering and the financing of terrorism will undergo background checks.” Among these businesses are casinos and lottery offices. Richardson furthermore referred to the plan to for judicial certification of businesses. Only businesses that get through this process will be certified to do business with the government.

Minister Ted Richardson (Tourism and Economic Affairs) said that a study has been commissioned to KPMG about the Emilio Wilson estate but that there was no definite commitment to buy the estate. “The purchase via the harbor will get us out of this commitment,” he said.

Minister Richardson said that the $650,000 fee for holding the FCCA-conference in October in St. Maarten will be split between the government and the harbor. The government will also organize the conference together with the harbor – that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. “The contribution from the government to the organization will be kept as low as possible.”

The minister said that a complete analysis of the taxi and bus sector is needed to identify market demands. “I have no intention to issue more taxi licenses until that study is complete,” he said “We have to make sure that we have enough tourists first before looking at the demand for more licenses.”

Minister Richardson said that there is a moratorium on licenses for car rental companies in place and that his ministry has no plans to invest in the American TV-station Tempo.

Education Minister Patricia Lourens let the parliament know that her department is finalizing a subsidy-agreement for the University of St. Martin to arrive at a system of structural funding, especially for the teacher education program.

There was no time for proper consultation with stakeholders about the increase of the healthcare insurance premium,” Public Health Minister Cornelius de Weever told the parliament. “The impact of the measure is minimal; maximum 230 guilders for someone with an income of 5,000 guilders per month. That is a drop in the bucket.”

The minister furthermore announced that, based on preliminary figures, unemployment has dropped from 12.2 percent into the single digits. He noted that legislation to repair the abuse of short term labor contracts is a matter for the minister of justice to address.

Vromi-Minister Maurice Lake remained non-committal on the issue of possible lower Gebe tariffs that DP-MP Roy Marlin feels are feasible because the utilities company no longer has to subsidize its sister companies in Saba and Statia. The savings are 5.2 million guilders per year. “However,” lake said, “there is a transition period of 6 months and the budget of Gebe still has to be approved. That budget has to be in line with the vision with regard to renewable energy resources that are designed to lower the costs for the people.”

Independent MP Frans Richardson brought up the trouble French-side residents experience with renewing their Saba-driver’s licenses on the Dutch side. He also pointed to the practice of illegals to set up deals with Dutch passport holders to acknowledge their children. “I understand that this is a serious business,” Richardson said.

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