Members of the Council of Ministers during Wednesday’s meeting.
~ To meet Van Huffelen today ~
PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said on Wednesday that Parliament should continue with its planned debate on the draft 2022 budget after several Members of Parliament (MPs) questioned its legality, as the Kingdom Council of Ministers has not granted the country a deviation to have a deficit budget.
Jacobs is expected to meet with Dutch State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitalization Alexandra van Huffelen on the matter today, Thursday.
Several MPs raised concerns about the legality of the budget debate during the notification segment of the meeting.
“Why are we here deliberating on a budget, given that we don’t have permission to have a deficit?” Independent MP Christophe Emmanuel asked.
United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams and Party for Progress (PFP) MPs Raeyhon Peterson and Melissa Gumbs raised similar concerns. Wescot-Williams said the budget in its current form is in contravention of at least three laws, including the Kingdom Law on Financial Supervision, the country’s constitution and the accountability ordinance.
United People’s (UP) party MP Rolando Brison said St. Maarten is not experiencing a normal situation – the country faces a pandemic and the budget deficit stems from the circumstances of the pandemic, a situation which is affecting countries around the world. The pandemic, he said, did not stop other Parliaments from executing their duties. He said the UP faction will vet and question the budget and table motions and submit amendments if required.
National Alliance (NA) MP Solange Duncan said that while she felt a bit uncomfortable, she had showed up at Parliament to debate the budget and that is what she thinks should be done.
Jacobs, who addressed the issue at the start of her budget presentation, said government has a legal obligation to submit the budget to Parliament, which it has done. Government also has the legal obligation to request a deviation for a deficit budget, via the Minister of Finance, based on the fact that the country has a disaster and St. Maarten has been facing disasters since 2017, she added. Once deviation is requested as per the law, the country is entitled to have it granted.
“The CFT has positively advised and the RMR [Kingdom Council of Ministers – Ed.] should have already approved this. … No conditions, other than the provision as per the law RFT, can be added to be able to deviate,” she said.
The Kingdom Council of Ministers meeting in which this was to have been discussed, which was originally scheduled to be held on January 21, has been postponed to February 4.
“Parliament in that regard, in the opinion of government, should continue to do its due diligence to debate and approve this budget,” Jacobs said. “Government then has to incorporate all amendments. Already two have been brought forth by government and we await what this debate will bring.
“This also requires time within the institution of government to incorporate those changes before they can be forwarded to the governor for ratification. Seeing the time that this can take as well as the new date for the RMR, we feel that we should be in line, especially seeing how long it took the last time to bring all the necessary amendments to be able to get a fully approved budget and with the granting of the deviation for Article 25, in time for us to be able to get moving some point in February.”
Jacobs said she had explained this in a December 23 letter to Parliament. “I know that whilst there was more discussion that is needed on this topic, there is an ongoing discussion with the Dutch government at this time and as soon as I am able to conclude the meeting which is scheduled for [today, Thursday] with the new State Secretary on these topics I will be able to update the MPs accordingly.”
Jacobs said Van Huffelen is aware of the legal obligation of the RMR and is open to doing what is right.
“I look forward to having a fruitful meeting. … In preparation for said meeting the technical staffs of both the Netherlands and St. Maarten have been in several meetings in order to prepare for this and that is why I convey the positivity of the expectations of this government,” said Jacobs.