~ Johnson: Non-payment affected Tourist Bureau ~
PHILIPSBURG–Government was notified on November 28 of a 451-day past-due bill for a training attended by Member of Parliament Rolando Brison during his stint as St. Maarten Tourist Bureau head. The company UBM Global Business Services added a warning that legal proceeding would start against government if the bill was not attended to immediately.
Brison received the money for the Route Development for Tourism training from government, but it was never debited to the company. On query about the non-payment, Brison told The Daily Herald he had paid the US $1,395 bill and provided a receipt from the company dated December 12, 2018, at 11:53am.
Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Stuart Johnson made the issue of the non-payment of the bill public in the live broadcast Council of Ministers press briefing just over an hour before the time on the receipt.
Asked why the bill was so long past due if he received money from government to pay it, Brison said he had been of the belief the money received was his per diem only and not for the training as well. He said his per diem was “only $800 more” than he expected so it did not seem out of place.
Brison was asked for the full figure of what he had received from government. He responded, “I cannot recall the full figure, as the training was over a year ago. I took some 16 trips last year.”
He added that for him it was a non-issue because “I have paid that bill.”
The Finance Department usually pays for trainings, not the attendee, according to him.
As per the government advice for the training, $2,985 was allotted to Brison as per diem for accommodation and other expenses, and an additional $1,395 for training payment on arrival in Miami, Florida. The second civil servant who attended the trip with Brison received the same allotment and paid his training bill on arrival in Florida.
The first notice of non-payment was sent on July 5, 2017, when Brison was still Tourist Bureau head, with a due date of September 3, 2017. The bill remained unpaid until December 12.
When contacted by the company about the bill, Brison said his first thought was “politics was being played.” He claimed that on inquiring, he found out that the bill was his to pay and proceeded with payment.
While not naming the MP in the press briefing, Johnson said, “Past actions of certain MPs who reportedly attended trainings without paying has resulted in me and members of the STB not being able to register to attend perhaps the most important hospitality trade show to promote St. Maarten to major airlines and other stakeholders unless that bill left behind is paid.”
The bill, which was still past due on December 10 when another overdue payment notification was sent to government, has had the adverse effect of forcing the Tourist Bureau “to pay a higher cost, forfeiting any chance of paying the early bird prices at a time when every dollar counts as we try to re-brand our destination post-[Hurricane – Ed.] Irma,” said Johnson in the press briefing.