MPs pepper Ministers with questions in budget debate

Independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo (standing) speaks in the budget debate on Monday.

 PHILIPSBURG–The 2016 draft budget was tabled in Parliament by Finance Minister Richard Gibson on Monday morning in Parliament House. Members of Parliament (MPs), who had up to 90 minutes to speak, peppered the Council of Ministers with a barrage of questions spanning from the budget and Government policies to general topics of interest.

  The seven Ministers, who all made presentations about the working of their Ministries on Monday, will be back in Parliament today, Tuesday, starting at 2:00pm to deliver answers to the questions from MPs. Not all 15 MPs posed questions on the draft budget, six MPs (including Parliament Chairwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams) did not pose any question on the budget or other related topics.

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  Aside from Wescot-Williams, who cannot pose questions while chairing the meeting, the other MPs – Frans Richardson (United St. Maarten Party), Theo Heyliger (United People’s party), Silvio Matser (independent), Christophe Emmanuel and George Pantophlet (National Alliance) did not sign up to speak before Wescot-Williams announced a mini break for a light dinner around 6:00pm. This means these MPs will not be allowed to make use of their allotted time and will only have the opportunity to speak, based on the Rules of Order, when the draft budget and the motions MP Tamara Leonard (UP) intends to table come to a vote later this week. 

  Leonard said in her presentation that she intends to table a motion to make the currently refundable deposit for residence permits – equivalent to an air ticket back to the permit holder’s home country – non-refundable. She sees this as a way of generating usable Government funds. She also intends to table a motion to cut the salaries of MPs. The cut will show the people that MPs stand with them in the tough financial times. When times get better, MPs can always opt to revert to the current salary amount, she said.   

  Independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo wants Government to explain why the issuance of international and tourist driver’s licences has not gotten off the ground. Making these licences available will create a new revenue stream for Government, she said. She reiterated her recommendation, made last year via motion, for the creation of the registry for foreign birth certificates as part of the Civil Registry. This would also bring income for Government as would the implementation of a nominal school bus fee similar to the one in Aruba, the MP said.

  Marlin-Romeo also suggested the levying of a migrant student fee “to close the gap” of migrants bringing children to the country who are sometimes not their own and enrolling them in the already crowded schools. The MP said she is not against compulsory education, but she sees the need for the overcrowding, the burdening of limited resources to be addressed swiftly.

  MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson (UP) called for the study financing ordinance to be revamped to make it more viable. His idea is for the fund to work more effectively, a better payback system to allow for more study grants.

  He also suggested the subsidy ordinance be changed to remove the need for organisations receiving Government funds to provide a financial statement for expensive external accountants and instead submit a financial review to Government. This will leave more money in the pockets of the Foundation to execute their vital social and other programmes.

  Dr. Richardson questioned why it is not possible for Government to simply take what it is owed for the division of assets of the former Netherlands Antilles rather than continue to wait for Curaçao to give the nod. “Why not go to the Central Bank and take what is ours,” he said.

  MP Johan Leonard (UP) expressed concern for the limited resources afforded pensioners and the elderly. He said much more must be done for them. He also heavily questioned the recent awarding of garbage contracts by Government and requested information on the entire process.

  MP Franklin Meyers (UP) wants to hear from Finance Minister Richard Gibson the benefits of staying in or leaving the monetary union with Curaçao. He also questioned the state of affairs at Princess Juliana International Airport especially about the status of Managing Director Regina Labega and the current management situation.

  Meyers requested an update on plans to build a police substation in St. John’s Estate and whether a private citizen or company can request a building permit for a police station.  

  Independent MP Cornelius de Weever questioned how Government intends to broaden the tax base. He also queried if there has been any budget overruns to date. He requested information about the supervision of the crime funds, whether all outstanding traffic fines have been collected and when the ordinance to extend health insurance coverage for sole proprietors will be tabled in Parliament.

  On the construction of a new hospital, De Weever asked Health Minister Emil Lee to outline the benefits of the Austrian group VAMED, the company the former Government had plans with, compared with the companies the present Government is dealing with on the project.

   National Alliance (NA) MP Rodolphe Samuel called on Government to issue “job-secured scholarships” to youngsters. He gave as an example the offering of teacher’s training scholarships to young men, as this gender is sorely lacking in the teaching profession. On dollarization, the MP said from his vantage point it will only benefit businesses that operate with the United States dollar as their base. He said he needs to be convinced of the overall benefits of dollarization for St. Maarten.

  Independent MP Maurice Lake called for the regulations governing the crime fund to be amended to allow the monies to aid the Police, Customs and Immigration to get manpower and equipment. He urged Infrastructure Minister Angel Meyers to pursue road and other building projects as soon as funds in the budget become available to better the country and create jobs.

  MP Hyacinth Richardson (NA) lobbied for the Voluntary Corps St. Maarten VKS to be allocated land for a building or be given the building the Corps occupies now. He also queried what assistance Government renders to Red Cross St. Maarten Chapter. Both the VKS and Red Cross are among the country’s vital institutions. The MP also questioned if the increase in the pension age to 65 in the near future would aid or hamper employment opportunities especially for people over age 35. 

Source: The Daily Herald MPs pepper Ministers with questions in budget debate

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