‘Shotgun budget’ tabled in Parliament by Gibson

PHILIPSBURG–Parliament is faced with a “shotgun budget” as the draft 2016 budget was described by Finance Minister Richard Gibson. The Minister tabled the budget, totaling NAf 438,000 in the Central Committee meeting of Parliament on this morning.  

  There is “no time to do the budget as it should have been done” and to get all policies from the seven ministries covered, said the Minister. “There is a certain pain in the budget, because the wish list of the ministries could not be met.”

  The draft budget was “a difficult delivery,” Gibson told Members of Parliament (MPs). He informed that Government has to find ways to curb debt accumulation and to service already mounted debt to the Social and Health Insurance SZV and the General Pension Fund APS. Government had been deducting premiums from civil servants salaries, but not making payment to the social funds. Instead, the money was used to cover operational expenses, according to Gibson. This resulted in a hefty debt to be repaid starting this year and for the coming two years.

  Also lessening the load on this draft budget is the sale of the still-to-be completed Government Administration Building on Pond Island to SZV and APS for NAf 45 million last week. The revenue from the sale was used as a down payment by Government on its debt to the social funds.

  Revenue also has to be fund to service the some six bond loans related to the beautification projects executed prior to October 10, 2010. These amount to more the NAf 20 million and will mature in the last quarter of this year.

  The budget contains “realistic” figures by taking into the consideration the realized income and the actual expenditure of Government in the past years, Gibson explained. As for revenues, he said the goal is to generate any addition revenue first before claiming it on the budget. “We are only using the real figures, not projections,” he said. This approach will “lessen criticism” from CFT.  

  No new or hopeful revenue streams are included in the draft budget. With that approach, Gibson hopes the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT will approve the budget and it will not suffer the fate of the 2015 budget. That budget, though adopted by Parliament, lacked the approval of CFT based on budgeted revenue being deemed unrealized by the Committee.

  “I believe the budget will pass muster and meet the CFT’s approval,” said Gibson. CFT “can raise issues” with the budget as present. However, the possibility of that “monkey wrench” has been “minimized” with the approach of using real expenditures and realized income, he said.

  The Minister is confident that his method of budgeting will see the country’s debt burden reduced. He has projected a NAf 20 million revenue on the budget come the end of the year. Those funds, if realized, can be used to target the debt burden. “The specific aim is to give St. Maarten a balanced budget for 2016,” Gibson told MPs.“If discipline is exercised, by the end of 2016, we will have an excess of NAf 20 million,” he said.

  St. Maarten was handed an instruction from the Kingdom Council of Ministers last year to get the 2015 budget in conformity with CFT regulations. This could not be done due to limited time left in that year, a change of government and the already past deadline for the 2016 budget presentation to Parliament.  Efforts to fix last year’s budget were “abandoned” and focus was placed on the budget for this current year.

  Following Gibson’s presentation, MPs Leona Marlin-Romeo (independent), Cornelius de Weever (independent) and Dr. Lloyd Richardson (United People’s party) posed a number of questions about budget allotment, government’s policies and efforts to safe cost. After their presentations, no other MPs requested to speak on the budget.

  Parliament Chairwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams suspended the session briefly to discuss the approach on delivering the answers by Gibson. On resuming the session, MP Theo Heyliger, who was not present in the General Assembly Hall when Wescot-Williams asked if there was any other speakers, queried the procedure to suspend the session for lunch and have the Minister return at 2:00pm to deliver his answer. Heyliger was told no other MP had asked to speak thus the session would go over to the Minister’s answer.

  MPs are not required to sign a speaker’s list in a Central Committee meeting as is required in a plenary session. They only have to sign their intention to speak to the chairperson who grants speaking time on a first to request basis.  

Source: The Daily Herald ‘Shotgun budget’ tabled in Parliament by Gibson