PHILIPSBURG–St. Maarten has requested NAf. 254 million in assistance from the Netherlands to help cover its relief package for the first three months. Finance Minister Ardwell Irion and his team, with information and recommendations gathered by the Emergency Support Functions (ESFs) and their relevant teams and task forces, prepared a Support Relief Plan (SRP) for the country.
The plan includes the cost to execute the plan which forms part of the request to the Netherlands and totals NAf 254 million for the first three months, Irion said.
The SRP covers direct relief, which includes a payroll support programme, income support programme, a soft loan programme as well as an under-employed programme for an amount of NAf. 108.44 million. For the unemployed, the established unemployment benefits will continue, Irion said.
The SRP also includes funds to compensate for loss of government income for an amount of NAf. 89.2 million which is needed to enable government to carry out already existing but now expanded programmes, a food voucher programme and a food box programme for the most vulnerable groups, meals for the elderly and psycho-social care.
For the additional healthcare expenses an amount of NAf. 56.28 million has been budgeted and is intended for additional healthcare expenses as well as support to Social and Health Insurances SZV and St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC). The request has been prepared in close consultation with the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT and with guidance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Irion said in a press statement issued late Sunday evening that economies across the world have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and St. Maarten is no exception. “The necessary measures of closing the borders in order to control the spread of the virus has resulted in a practical halt of all economic activities on the island. The foremost effected are all economic activities that are directly related to tourism; the so-called frontline or first tier. Depending on the source and what is considered directly related, indirect and induced, tourism accounts for 50 – 80 % of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of St. Maarten. This further cement the need for substantial financial injection considering the current dilemma,” Irion said.
“The severity of the economic and social impact can be considered even more profound than others in the region or internationally as the country finds itself in the recovery phase after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which divested the island in September 2017.”
He said there is already a high level of uncertainty, which is further exacerbated by not knowing how long the pandemic will last and how long it will take the global tourism sector to start recovering. “This coupled with St. Maarten heading into its low season and hurricane season, puts the island in a vulnerable position. Government acknowledges that it is imperative that adequate measures are taken to absorb the economic and social impact of this new shock and to achieve a rapid recovery of the economy. Businesses that are severely affected will need financial assistance and for those who risk losing their jobs, the creation of a social safety net is essential. These measures are presented and outlined in more detail below.”
He said the government of St. Maarten has put much effort into following the guidelines set forth by CFT for the 2020 budget, but it is clear that the budget cannot finance the measures necessary to safeguard the health of the population, avoid social unrest and disruption of the already fragile economy. “St. Maarten has implemented all measures in their power up until this point, however we need the support of The Netherlands,” he said.