PHILIPSBURG–The last Member of Parliament (MP) voted on the 2018 Budget at 8:20pm Tuesday, just three hours and 40 minutes before the deadline imposed by the Dutch Kingdom Council of Ministers.
Parliament and the Council of Ministers (Government) were given until midnight May 8 to pass the overdue budget or face an instruction to get St. Maarten’s financial house in order. That instruction could take numerous forms, including the push from The Hague for austerity measures to cut cost.
The United Democrats/St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) coalition voted positively for the half-a-year overdue budget, described by Finance Minister Mike Ferrier as “not a pretty picture” and as reflecting the dire post-Hurricane Irma situation the country is in.
The voting also marked one of the few times in St. Maarten’s short history as a country within the Dutch Kingdom that a sitting Minister who is also an MP voted on the budget. Public Health Minister Emil Lee (United Democrats) voted for the budget that he also played a part in preparing. He can combine the two posts for no longer than three months based on law.
Also supporting the budget were United Democrats MPs Theo Heyliger, Dr. Luc Mercelina, Franklin Meyers, Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani, Chanel Brownbill, and Sarah Wescot-Williams, and MP Wycliffe Smith (SMCP).
Voting against the budget were five MPs forming the opposition. One MP, United St. Maarten Party (US Party) leader Frans Richardson was not in the General Assembly Hall of Parliament House when his name was called to vote on the budget. He arrived back in the Hall as voting continued.
Motivating why the budget did not have his support, National Alliance (NA) MP Jurendy Doran told the Council of Ministers and fellow MPs he did not consider the budget to be in the best interest of the people of St. Maarten. Government, in his estimation, failed to adequately outline how it plans to demolish the giant NAf. 197 million deficit.
MP Christophe Emmanuel (NA) said he did not want to make a decision that was not in the best interest of the people. He had called on Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin to assure him civil servants will not see salary cuts in the pending 37 cost-cutting measures yet to be passed by the Council of Ministers. He said he failed to get a “simple yes or no” answer from Romeo-Marlin.
The list of proposed cuts was received by MPs at “the eleventh hour” and with no time to deliberate on them, Emmanuel said there was no way the budget could get his support.
MP Ardwell Irion (NA) did not appreciate the “fluffy answers” received from Ministers to his questions, nor the “sneaky way” Government appears to be dealing with the 37 cost-cutting measures proposed by Ferrier. Like Doran, he does not see the budget containing revenue-generating options, thus could not support it.
NA leader MP Silveria Jacobs also did not lend her support to the budget. She had called on government to be cooperative and provide all information requested, including detailed policies from all seven ministries. Ministers did not demonstrate that they were committed to bring forth legislation to tackle outstanding issues or to go after pending revenue and saving measures. “This budget is not palatable to me,” she said.
MP Rolando Brison (US Party) cited the Council of Advice as his basis for voting against the deficit budget. The Council, he said, pointed out that without a complete picture of the budget, the budgetary process would be undermined.
MP William Marlin (NA) was absent from Tuesday’s plenary session on the budget.
The draft budget is NAf. 197 million in the hole with income (from taxes and other fees) standing at NAf. 303.4 million and expenditures at NAf. 505.5 million.
The original budget deficit stood at NAf. 257 million. That amount was reduced to current NAf. 197 million. On the income side, Government has projected to collect NAf. 234.8 million in taxes, NAf. 12.9 million in permit fees, NAf. 32.5 million in concession fees, and NAf. 22.9 million in other income.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/76407-2018-budget-passes-just-some-three-hours-before-deadline