PHILIPSBURG–“Positive” was how Finance Minister Richard Gibson Sr. described the half-year financial report to Parliament on Monday morning. The report, submitted to the legislature on Friday, shows a positive balance of NAf. 18.2 million in government’s coffer.
That amount is a result of some NAf. 6.2 million more collected in revenues than budgeted for January to July and a savings of NAf. 12 million – less spending – by the seven ministries. However, that savings is not all due to efficiency; rather it comes from a number of vacancies, some critical, not being filled by the administration.
Gibson Sr. sees the positive balance sheet as the country “heading in the right direction” financially and outlined plans to keep the country in the black as much as possible by tackling outstanding debts and trimming unnecessary spending.
He was also pleased to have presented the half-year report two weeks after the end of July, in spite of the severe information and Communication Technology (ICT) challenges of Government.
The amount of tax collected was NAf.7.9 million more than budgeted for the first half of 2017. This is in addition to another NAf. 8 million that will be reflected in an amendment to the 2017 budget that is “fighting its way” to Parliament, according to Gibson Sr.
The amount of revenue collected from the issuance of employment (work) permits and building permits is less than budgeted. Gibson Sr. is confident that this amount will rally in the coming months.
Revenue collected from government-levied fees and concessions was NAf. 1 million more than budgeted, primarily due to higher bank fees collected by the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS).
Fees from Social and Health Insurance SZV, Utilities Company GEBE and St. Maarten Telephone Group of Companies TelEm are down by some NAf. 2.2 million. The Minister is hopeful that this will change in the current and the last quarters of this year.
The 2017 budget is exposed to some “risks” that can have a significant impact on the end-of-year outcome if left unchecked or not remedied, said the Minister. One point of concern is a deficit in the sickness and accident funds amounting to some NAf. 12 million. If not recouped by the end of the year, Government will have to compensate for the shortfall.
Measures, the Minister said, are very necessary “to curb the negative effects on the budget.”
The insurance shortfall is not the only thorn in Gibson Sr.’s side. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports is running a deficit due to allocation of subsidies and the coverage of school bus transportation. Similarly, the Justice Ministry is also running a deficit related to the operations of the Police and the prison.
Gibson Sr. said he remains optimistic about the year ending with a positive balance sheet. He is also busy discussing with the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT the possibility to acquire another loan to improve the tax administration infrastructure.
MPs questioned the Minister on the country’s share of assets from the former Netherlands Antilles, the state of the country’s reserves, the tackling of spending habits, the list of creditors and amounts owed, about the soon-to-be issued sinking bond, and the list of critical vacancies still to be filled among others.
Gibson Sr. is expected to deliver answers to those questions when the Parliament sitting resumes on Thursday at 10:00am in Parliament House.
Meanwhile, Parliament sessions continue today, Tuesday, with a fraction leaders meeting on the preparation for the closing of the 2016-2017 Parliamentary Year on September 11, and the opening of the 2017-2018 Parliamentary Year on September 12.
The leaders’ meeting will be followed by a general parliamentary session with the Dow’s Musical Foundation at 11:00am. The programme of the foundation and its benefits will be outlined to the legislators by foundation representatives.
A meeting on administrative enforcement will continue this afternoon at 2:00pm with Justice Minister Rafael “Raffie” Boasman.
Parliament’s Permanent Committee for Tourism and Economic Affairs TEATT will meet on Wednesday at 2:00pm with representatives of the American University of the Caribbean (AUC) Medical School. The school’s representatives want to share what they have calculated as the institution’s contribution to the country’s economy.
Public Health and Labour Minister Emil Lee will be in Parliament on Thursday at 2:00pm to continue the debate on changes to the Civil Code related to the labour laws.
Parliament Chairwoman MP Sarah Wescot-Williams said in her press conference to outline the week’s schedule that three MPs – George Pantophlet, Rodolphe Samuel and Chanel Brownbill – will head to meetings of the Latin American Parliament Parlatino this week.
With three of the 15 MPs off island, she hopes to “still muster a quorum” for the other scheduled meetings to continue this week. At least eight MPs are needed for the start and continuation of any parliamentary session.