Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin addressing MPs on Monday.
PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin cautioned departments on Monday to monitor their expenditures closely to ascertain that they are in compliance and remain on target in accomplishing intended goals.
She made the call during her presentation on the draft 2019 budget. She said it is important to underscore that in the absence of identified priorities for all ministries, the organisations will not be able to achieve their objectives if financial discipline is not exercised. Her focus and instruction to the ministries for the fiscal year is to prioritise, maximise opportunities, and optimise public services.
She stressed that St. Maarten is experiencing some of the most challenging times to date and urged Members of Parliament (MPs) to debate the budget in a non-confrontational manner.
“These challenges, be it fiscal, political or otherwise in the wake of our recovery efforts, require firm leadership and a commitment to lead progress for St. Maarten and its people. … For the Budget 2018, we humbly requested for the handling to be done in an atmosphere of understanding, collaboration and non-confrontational. For the 2019 budget, I respectfully ask the same considering the serious times ahead for our country.
“This draft national ordinance establishing the budget of the year 2019, which is similar to previous budgets, is a management tool indicating the policy direction of government. In this particular case, the government’s approach has been guided under the premise of the governing programme 2018-2022, ‘Building a sustainable Sint Maarten.’”
The budget of the Ministry of General Affairs includes personnel expenses of NAf. 28.9 million, representing 41 per cent of the ministry’s budget, and operational expenses of NAf. 42.4 million, representing 59 per cent of the budget.
She said the majority of the operational expense budget is used to provide services to the other six ministries. The biggest operational expense for the General Affairs Ministry is related to the rental of office spaces. Other expenses related to service sharing are software licences, electricity, office supplies, insurance, and communication.
“Together with the ministry, we are exploring innovations in service-sharing to continue to deliver quality services to the other ministries and, at the same time, cut cost.”
Some of the ministry’s policy priorities are to reinforce short-term disaster preparedness operation; replace and repair damaged assets of emergency response units; improve the disaster communication structure; revive and update the legislation on disaster management and ensure that there is a disaster management component in all legislation; work with Dutch embassies to explore opportunities to generate international trade and economic activities; ensure finalisation of repairs to the Government Administration Building on Soualiga Road; conduct a personnel assessment of each ministry; address absenteeism; review and fill critical vacancies; thoroughly execute the role of shareholder of government-owned companies, foundations, and ZBOs; provide appropriate expertise and support to the shareholder and ministers in executing their tasks and understanding their responsibilities; set up an emergency response and evacuation programme for the Government Administration Building; modernise the Civil Registry; and strengthen regional relationships; amongst other things.
She said each minister and the civil service have worked tirelessly on presenting the most practical budget, given the country’s liquidity challenges.
“To this end, for those who believe that we are operating as ‘business as usual,’ I must sadly disappoint them by stating that this is far from reality. We are in the midst of recovery where any wrong intentions could severely undermine the efforts undertaken by so many thus far. Building a resilient country does not happen overnight; it takes time, keen decision-making, and commitment to guide us through the challenging times ahead.”
She elaborated on some of the ministry’s plans and work in which it is engaged.
According to Romeo-Marlin, an important trajectory being undertaken by the ministry relates to the restructuring of several departments, including the Fire Department, merging of Human Resource Departments, the Department of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations BAK, and Facility Services. “While we are building and maximising capacity and improving service levels, we must ensure self-reliance through proper training and empowerment of our civil servants,” she said.
“To continue on this example and my instruction to maximise our opportunities, please note that in this draft budget funds are allocated for training. The instruction to the ministry, however, remains unequivocally that training will only be approved as part of an overall plan. By doing this, we will be able to better measure the results, and by doing so, if needed, the plan can be adjusted.”
Training and development
She said government’s agenda is specifically geared towards creating an operational baseline throughout the public administration, thereby enhancing knowledge, efficiency, and effectiveness along with transparency and accountability. It is with this agenda that the ministry will continue to strive for a knowledge-based and enhanced quality output within the organisation.
A staple initiative titled “An introduction programme to incoming ministers and staff” kicked off last year. The purpose of the training was to equip ministers and their cabinet staff with essential information aimed at imparting knowledge about the functioning of government; providing them with essential information related to the responsibilities of their cabinets; and accommodating a smooth transition period.
Other initiatives include the production of an “Internal Operational manual” highlighting the shared services and the steps that guide the use of these services.
“Considering that we have entered into hurricane season is the Disaster Management manual, an essential manual created recently. This manual outlines the actions that civil servants must take in preparing for a hurricane. Quarterly manuals on specific yet important subject matters were published and disseminated to the civil service.”
She said creating a knowledge-based civil service continues to be a priority for the ministry and the organisation as well. Recently, the ministry organised a session for Secretaries-General on litigation and the expectation of the role of the Department of Legal Affairs and Legislation. During the presentation, insight was given on legal proceedings that occurred in 2018, the roles/tasks of each (internal) stakeholder (ministry), and the process of litigation itself.
The purpose of the information sessions is to share knowledge, but also to give recommendations/advice to the organisation on how to improve the quality of decisions. The last Judicial Platform held provided insight to civil servants about the advisory bodies and High College of State, the Ombudsman, and the Social Economic Council SER.
On a coordinating level, the Emergency Services Function (ESF) 9 group (Government Affairs), led by the Ministry established a Ministerial Operations Centre. This centre is charged with ensuring continuity of government in the event of a disaster and consists of representatives of all ministries. It is tasked with further developing and defining the continuity of Government’s plans per ministry in the event of a disaster.
These efforts are orchestrated by civil servants who willingly and selflessly go beyond the call of duty to ensure that government is better prepared for the inevitable.
Furthermore, and for the first time in disaster management, the ministry initiated the development of a “back office” for the Emergency Operations Centre. The purpose of this back office will be to provide administrative and logistical support to the Emergency Operations Centre during disaster-related events.
Just recently, the emergency response departments received specialised equipment that will help them to adequately respond to disaster-related incidents. Additional equipment and safety attire such as satellite phones, radios, and fire-resistant suits will be available to this group soon.
The ministry also developed and implemented the “Clean Desk policy” as of June 2019. The policy sets the guidelines to ensure that authentic important government documentation is rendered secure, mainly throughout the hurricane season.
In giving an update on the developments regarding government’s hurricane Irma insurance claim, she said government is currently awaiting the outcome of the appraisal report, which was sent to the insurance company. Discussions between the public adjuster and insurance company are ongoing. “Although an estimate of the length of this exercise is difficult to determine at a time since both parties (the insurance company and the public adjuster) need their time to address the concerns of each other. The public adjuster promised the representatives of government that as soon as they finalise the first batch, they could give government a more accurate estimate,” she said.
As it relates to foreign relations, she said maintaining and establishing sound international, regional and cross-border relations for St. Maarten as a country within the Dutch Kingdom remains paramount and requires active participation in her capacity as Prime Minister and Regional Authorizing Officer at high-level engagement that inextricably ties to the development of the country. “Government resources or travel in this regard is used in the most effective manner possible.”
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/88605-pm-urges-departments-to-monitor-expenditure