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St. Maarten prime minister: Government's position to be heard prior to decision on instruction

THURSDAY, 05 SEPTEMBER 2013

PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said government will ensure its position on the revised 2013 budget is heard by the Kingdom Council of Ministers as prescribed by the Kingdom Law on Temporary Financial Supervision for Curaçao and St. Maarten, prior to any instruction being given to the country.

The Committee for Financial Supervision CFT advised the Kingdom Council of Ministers on Monday to give St. Maarten an instruction to realise a 2013 budget that is in compliance with the financial supervision law.

Wescot-Williams said at Wednesday’s Council of Ministers Press Briefing that government will make sure the process outlined by law on the issuance of an instruction is followed exactly as stated.

Based on the law, government must be heard on the status of affairs with the revised 2013 budget before the advice from CFT for an instruction is fully taken up by the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

“We will make sure whatever comes out of the proposal by the CFT that it follows the process of the very same law which includes the government of St. Maarten being heard before such [a draft instruction – Ed.] can be tabled for decision making in the Kingdom Council of Ministers,” the prime minister said.

The Kingdom Council of Ministers usually meets on the last Friday of the month. It is expected that the Kingdom Government will follow CFT’s advice.

Finance Minister Martin Hassink, also speaking at the press briefing, said he would have “loved to inform” the public about the progress on the draft budget 2014, but the ministry is “still focusing on the problem of the Budget 2013.” The revised budget is still with the Advisory Council.

Hassink has been working on revisions to the budget since taking office in June. The budget, though approved by Parliament in April, was not signed into law. It was sent to the Wescot-Williams III Cabinet by Governor Eugene Holiday a day after the new cabinet took office. A day following that, CFT informed the cabinet that the budget, prepared by former Finance Minister Roland Tuitt, had a perceived deficit of NAf. 30 million.

The finance minister is confident he had shaved off that deficit in the revised budget via revenue generating and cost-cutting measures. Those measures do not include any tax increases, rather they hinge on tapping into monies owed to government by its companies and related entities (see related story).

Those measures were communicated to CFT in July with a “very optimistic” schedule for the handling of the revised budget by Parliament by the end of August, Hassink said. “This did not happen.”

The minister hopes the amendments to the budget will be passed by Parliament as soon as possible “to avoid an instruction.” If an instruction is given, “it will basically order St. Maarten to balance the budget, which we have been trying to do now for the last couple of months.”

The minister, like he did in Parliament Monday, voiced his frustration at not being about to tackle the 2014 budget. “Sometimes I felt like a medical assistant standing in front of a red traffic light – that red traffic light is then the whole process of the budget 2013 – and on the other side of the street there is somebody choking and that then is the budget process 2014. I am not allowed to go to that patient to help them out until the traffic light goes on green.”

CFT Chairman Age Bakker informed President of St. Maarten’s Parliament Gracita Arrindell in writing on Tuesday that CFT had sent an advice to the Kingdom Government to give St. Maarten an instruction, conform Article 14(2) of the Financial Supervision Law for Curaçao and St. Maarten, to realise an approved 2013 budget that complies with the norms of the law.

Article 14(3) of the Financial Supervision Law dictates that CFT has to inform the government of the country in question, as well as the Parliament that it has sent an advice to the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

According to a press release issued by CFT on Tuesday, the Committee reached this decision in view of the fact that St. Maarten still does not have an adopted 2013 budget. St. Maarten did not comply with the August 31 deadline on which CFT and St. Maarten had agreed.

The Kingdom Council of Ministers usually meets on the last Friday of the month. It is expected that the Kingdom Government will follow CFT’s advice. Curaçao received an instruction from the Kingdom Government in July last year to get its 2012 budget in order.

Article 14(4) of the Financial Supervision Law provides the opportunity for the government of the country in question to give its vision on the proposal for an instruction. The proposal will be submitted by the Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk.

Plasterk already had warned on several occasions that the Kingdom Government very well might issue an instruction if St. Maarten continued to fail to meet the requirements of the Financial Supervision Law.

A majority in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament is in favour of giving

St. Maarten an instruction. The governing liberal democratic VVD party has been highly critical of St. Maarten’s financial management and budget discipline.

Member of the Second Chamber André Bosman (VVD) posed written questions on August 22, in relation to the statement by St. Maarten’s Finance Minister Martin Hassink that realising a zero-deficit budget was a “mission impossible.” Bosman inquired about intervention by the Kingdom Government.

Plasterk stated in his response on August 29, that an advice by CFT to give an instruction was an option. He explained that the instruction could imply that St. Maarten would be ordered to realise an adopted budget within a reasonable term and to send this to CFT. “This is a case of the Parliament itself,” he concluded.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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