GREAT BAY – Be independent and base your actions on facts, is the parting advice of Prof. Dr. Age Bakker, the departing chairman of financial supervisor Cft to St. Maarten. Bakker leaves today for the Netherlands where he will take up his post as member of the Council of State where he will do what he did in the Caribbean, but then for the Netherlands: keep an eye on the budget.
Yesterday morning Bakker was present at his last press conference in St. Maarten at the Convent Building on Front Street. Looking back on his 5.5 years as chairman of the Cft, he said: “St. Maarten has made a lot of progress, but we are not there yet. However, St. Maarten is in a much better place now than it was five years ago.”
There are, of course, serious concerns and they all have to do with the ICT-problems the government systems have been experiencing. The annual account 2016 is not there yet as a result of these issues, and the progress report over the first quarter also remains a work in progress.
“We are eagerly awaiting the annual account. Minister Gibson has assured us that it will be on our desk by August. We are now halfway through 2017 and we are a bit in the dark. There is no progress report over the first quarter; the only indication we have is of the revenue over the first five months. That stands at 201 million guilders – about the same as last year. But this is a serious issue because it is impossible to govern without data.”
The Cft has approved capital investment loans for up to 30 million guilders; of this amount, 21.6 million has already been budgeted. For the remaining 8.4 million guilders, the Parliament still has to approve a budget amendment, but Bakker does not expect major obstacles in this respect.
The Cft also discussed plans for the modernizing of the tax office with Minster Gibson. “He is working on a business plan to support the request for a loan for this investment. It should pay itself back based on better compliance,” Bakker said. “Cft will look at the request in a constructive manner and base its decision on an expert second opinion.”
While St. Maarten is making progress with abiding by the targeted kingdom instruction of 2015, two issues remain unresolved: pension reform and the national health insurance. Parliament must approve legislation that settles these matters before the end of the year.
The retirement age has already gone up from 60 to 62 years and by the end of this year, it should be 65. “Finance Minister Jardim in Curacao called this going cold turkey,” Bakker said. “But I think that 65 is a fair retirement age.”
Whether it will end there or go up further in the future, depends on data about life expectancy, Bakker said.
About the establishment of a national health insurance, Bakker said that there have been discussions with private sector organization SHTA. “One of their concerns was that civil servants would be treated differently from the private sector. That is easy to solve, by mentioning in the ordinance that the premiums employers and employees in the public and private sector are going to pay are the same.”
The departing Cft-chairman mentioned the payment of St. Maarten’s share in the division of assets of the former Netherlands Antilles a piece of good news. Several months ago, Finance Minister Gibson said that he stood to receive 60 million guilders, but when he announced a few weeks ago that the money was in the bank, he spoke of 59 million. What happened to the missing one million guilders? Bakker: “I don’t know.”
At yesterday press conference, Herbert Domacassé, the successor of Hyden Gittens on the Cft for the BES-islands, was present for the first time. “It is a pleasure to be here and I am looking forward to working with you,” he said.
The Cft expects the appointment of a new Cft-member for Curacao as the successor of Alberto Romero in the coming weeks.
Photo Caption: The Cft during chairman Bakker’s last press conference in St. Maarten. From left Sybilla Dekker, Age Bakker, Maria van der Sluijs-Plantz and Herbert Domacassé. Photo Today / Hilbert Haar