Unanimous approval for budget “without fantasy-measures”

POSTED: 03/21/16 7:09 PM

Support from opposition MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson

St. Maarten News – Within an hour and twenty minutes the parliament unanimously approved the 2016 budget yesterday morning. The meeting became possible after the release of independent MP Silvio Matser from pre-trial detention on Wednesday afternoon.

Four MPs were absent, notably UP-leader Theo Heyliger, UP-faction leader Franklin Meyers, UP-MP Johan Leonard and USp-MP Frans Richardson.

Independent MPs Leona Marlin-Romeo and Cornelius de Weever and UP-MPs Dr. Lloyd Richardson and Tamara Leonard were present though, together with chairlady Sarah Wescot-Williams (DP), National Alliance MPs Drs. Rodolphe Samuel, Hyacinth Richardson, George Pantophlet and Christophe Emmanuel and independent MPs Silvio Matser and Maurice Lake.

The parliament approved the budget with an 8-0 vote, whereby the seven coalition members received support from UP-MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson.

MPs Tamara Leonard, Cornelius de Weever and Leona Marlin-Romeo walked out of the meeting without casting a vote.

“I am happy to be back here,” MP Matser said when he was given the opportunity to motivate his vote in favor of the budget. “I went through a difficult time but the country means everything to me and that is why I am here today.”

Matser dismissed the charges of vote buying the prosecutor’s office has brought against him. “Silvio Matser did not need to buy this seat, it came from the heart of the people,” he said.

Matser noted that others were “jockeying for his seat” while he was indisposed, “like it was a piece of real estate.” He also expressed his disappointment in the attitude of several MPs, whom he did not identify by name, towards him.

Dr. Lloyd Richardson noted that the minister of finance had assured him that the issues he brought up during the budget debate – the 10 percent cut in subsidies to non-governmental organizations – will be addressed. “I take him on his word. He cannot guarantee that the funds are forthcoming, but I can deal with his willingness. I do not need deals and I, too, stand by my word. I told the minister of finance that, if he would consider my issues that I would give this budget my support. However, I still think that this government is in peril.”

At the beginning of the meeting, chairlady Wescot-Williams announced that the five amendments independent MP Marlin-Romeo had submitted during an earlier meeting had all been retracted.

The complete Council of Ministers was present in the meeting and Finance Minister Richard Gibson did most of the talking. He impressed upon the parliament once again the philosophy that underpins the budget in two brief sentences: “You cannot spend what you don’t have. Only when you earn you can spend.”

The minister addressed the position of MP Marlin-Romeo who refused to support the budget because it does not contain policies for generating additional revenue. “This tells me that the philosophy behind the budget was misunderstood. The experience has been for years that budgets result in deficits. And here we are, with 60 million guilders in deficits that we are forced to pay through an instruction from The Hague. We cannot borrow to solve this; we have to commit to pay without borrowing.”

Minister Gibson pointed out that the 2015 budget stranded on this issue because the instruction could not be met. “That puzzle could not be solved but in the 2016 budget a solution has been found by not incorporating revenue based on intended measures.”

Again the minister pointed out that all efforts are focused on not giving financial supervisor Cft a reason not to approve the budget. This is why there are ‘no fantasy-measures,” he said, adding that the philosophy needs to be clearly understood and that, because there are no ‘intended measures’ in the budget it means that such measures will not be taken at all. “These measures are not incorporated in the budget to prevent that the Cft can take shots at us.”

The government expects however additional revenue from the indexation of the casino fees – in three annual steps, but this income is not in the budget yet.

Minister Gibson also addressed the absent UP-MP Johan Leonard’s concern about pensioners, saying that budget-measures will improve the pension fund’s coverage for its obligations to 102 percent and that it will increase further to 107 percent once the APS constructs the parking garage behind the new government administration building and starts operating it.

On top, the pension fund will work on reforms that will increase coverage even further. In the Netherlands, the minister said, large pension funds are in trouble with coverage percentages gone down in one case to 86 percent. This is due to low interest rates and the funds are thinking about the need to lower pension payments.

Other measures will also generate more income and once that money materializes, the minister is prepared to sit with ngo’s that are unable to make ends meet because of the current subsidy cuts and help them out where possible.

“This is the best budget we can have at the moment,” Minister Gibson concluded. “It is an obligation to approve this budget, given the additional advantages we will have once it is approved. I ask for a one hundred percent approval from the parliament. There are no real issues that would stop you from voting for a budget that will bring badly needed investments to St. Maarten; and it is the first of three steps to get rid of the Cft. So please, let us show the world that when something is good for St. Maarten we can all stand behind it.”

This message did not impress UP-MP Tamara Leonard; threatening with a walk-out, she asked to postpone the meeting until Monday so that the absent MPs – Heyliger, Meyers, Leonard and Frans Richardson – could be part of the deliberations. Her proposal died because it only got the support from MPs Marlin-Romeo, De Weever and Dr. Lloyd Richardson; the other seven voted against.

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