Minister Ardwell Irion
PHILIPSBURG–While the details of the stimulus package being put together to cushion the effects of the coronavirus COVID-19 are still to be ironed out, the focus of government will be on persons who are unemployed, those who lose their jobs and those whose employment is at risk, Finance Minister Ardwell Irion said on Wednesday.
Irion said the package would depend heavily on how much the Netherlands will be injecting into it. The Netherlands has indicated that it wants “a unified approach” when it comes to assisting St. Maarten, Curaçao and Aruba during the crisis. However, St. Maarten believes that its situation differs from those of Curaçao and Aruba. Government is hoping the Netherlands will give insight by this Friday into how much aid it will provide.
When pressed for details on how the package will be rolled out, Irion said his main goal at the moment was securing funds for the stimulus package. The details will be ironed out afterwards.
“We have used information from the Central Bank [of Curaçao and St. Maarten – Ed.] in addition to ours and our approach as government is to help those who are unemployed and those who have lost their jobs and those who are at risk of losing their jobs, to find a way of giving them a financial supplement,” Irion told reporters at the Council of Ministers press briefing.
“The most important thing for me and my task for the last week is making sure that we can provide relief for the people of St. Maarten and also get financial aid to have a financial supplement for the people. There are different schemes and possibilities … but nothing is final as yet because the most important thing is actually getting the money.
“We are looking at a similar programme as the one we had as after the hurricane [Irma] in terms of food vouchers. If we can have all monthly expenses [of households] deferred or reduced and we then provide a stimulus in terms of some sort of financial aid, then you will have more disposable income for yourself.”
He outlined some of the measures already taken by some institutions such as banks, which are offering relief in terms of a moratorium on mortgages and loan payments for, in some cases, three to six months depending on the bank.
Utilities company GEBE is also lowering its fuel clause, which can ultimately result in lower utility bills for consumers, and Irion said discussions were also held with car dealerships that offer lease agreements on vehicles and these companies have agreed to also offer relief, some on a case-by-case basis and some will defer lease payments for two months.
Irion pleaded with consumers that this is not the time to go on a spending spree on Amazon for their favourite sneakers or multiple PlayStation games, but rather advised to use their resources cautiously. “This is a time where we have to use our resources wisely,” he said.
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said during her address at the press briefing that a meeting would be held with Emergency Support Function 7 (ESF 7) and Irion to discuss the social dynamics and aspects relating to the stimulus plan/packages. Some of the interventions being looked at are soup kitchens, food vouchers, financial aid and medical aid, she said.
Separately, discussions have also been held with the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) and together with Jacobs, efforts are being made to work on packages for small to medium-size enterprises. “We are also looking at extending the training programme [introduced] after the hurricane [Irma].”
Government is also looking at tax incentives, but this cannot be done without legislative changes being made, Irion said.
Measures were also discussed with Jacobs and the Council of Ministers on using government’s resources wisely. Irion said he had received many messages from persons suggesting that St. Maarten adopt measures similar to those other countries had. However, he said other countries have different tax and social net systems and some have bigger populations than St. Maarten.
“The government of St. Maarten is for sure looking at making sure that our people are safe and that they have enough to make it through these three months and we are hoping to have a final answer [from the Netherlands] hopefully by Friday.”
On a separate note, Irion said government was also using the opportunity in this time of crisis to focus on areas on which it can improve. “Yes, we have a crisis situation, but in the meantime, the Ministry of Finance with support of ICT [information and communications technology] is looking to get services online during this time.”
The ministry is also moving ahead with plans it began before the crisis to have all advices go digital and ministries are looking at going digital. Irion is also “doubling down” on a project by the Ministry of Finance to expedite an online e-payment law to make it possible to receive money via online payment.
He will also implore CBCS to push the idea of the “Dutch guilder digital currency”, noting that “if we had this in place already, we would have had less of an economic impact. Yes, we are in a crisis and we should be looking more into these things.”
Irion will be meeting with CBCS on expediting the concept idea of the “Dutch guilder digital currency” and on “expediting laws to have more financial tech businesses and support more local entrepreneurs with online endeavours.”