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St. Maarten government growing personnel cost worrisome


PHILIPSBURG–The growing cost of government personnel is “quite worrisome,” says Finance Minister Martin Hassink.

He told reporters at Wednesday’s Council of Ministers press briefing that the cost of personnel has grown over the years. In 2011, for example, 39 per cent of government’s budget went to personnel expenses. This excludes the cost allocated for school boards. This amount increased to 43 per cent of the budget in 2012.

The Minister was, at the time, speaking about government’s ability to pay the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to civil servants and teachers, which unions have been lobbying for. “We should not only look at COLA, but the total personnel expenses,” Hassink said, adding that this is an issue all over the world. He attributed the rising cost to factors such as indexation, automatic increases, pension plans and sickness expenses, among other factors.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, who was also at the press briefing, said while the government organisation is not where it needs to be in terms of having its full complement of personnel to fill the various positions, the administration has been discussing the “desirability” of the various government functions over the years as is listed vis a vis their “necessity.”

She also said that government is looking at making several changes to the organisation that would include a merging of departments. The recommended changes are already at Parliament. A “core task analysis” of the government organisation will also be conducted. Hassink said this initiative will be funded by USONA and will most likely be conducted by Government Accounts Bureau SOAB. The analysis is expected to start in “a few weeks” and will be completed in about six months. Hassink said the findings will be “very important.”

The analysis will take a keen look at the services government offers versus the outsourcing of certain services “that are not part of the core tasks of government.”

Wescot-Williams pointed out that “the very last thing government wants to do” as it moves to keep personnel expenses at an acceptable and affordable level is to touch the salaries of workers due to the socio-economic impact this would have.

“In order to maintain the salaries, we need to think about a different way of operating…If we choose to maintain the salaries…then the whole government apparatus needs to realise that we need to talk about how we will function, with whom and what we have,” she noted.

She said the level of service should not reduce, “but we can’t have the cost of personnel go through the roof.”

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten



Core task study examines all civil service functions


St. Maarten – The core task study the government has initiated could result in outsourcing certain services, but how all this is going to work out did not immediately become clear at yesterday’s Council of Ministers press briefing.

“The last thing we want to do is look at the salaries of our civil servants,” Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Sarah Wescot-Williams said. “But to be able to maintain those salary-levels we must operate differently.”

Finance Minister Maarten Hassink said that salaries will take up more than 40 percent of the budget this year – a situation he described as “worrisome.”

According to the 2013 budget, the country currently employs 1,800 civil servants. Before country status that number hovered around 1,100. Are there maybe too many civil servants on the payroll?

Wescot-Williams: “Overall we are not there yet with the numbers we need for the government organization. Over the years we have discussed the necessity of all functions, but we also have to look at the changes in the government organization. We are thinking about merging departments and about outsourcing certain services. It is in movement in terms of total numbers.”

The Prime Minister also pointed out that when St. Maarten obtained country status it merges the civil service of the island territory with the country-functions it took over from the former Netherlands Antilles. Adding the police force to the national payroll is just one example of this process that partly explains the ballooning numbers.

Source: Today Newspaper, St. Maarten

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