The ~ Worst budget presented in the history of the country. ~
PHILIPSBURG: --- Ministers representing Government presented their budget on Monday morning. The poorly prepared budget which was presented created more questions than answers.
MP Luc Mercelina made no mistake when he highlighted the deficit which stands at NAF 62.7M while the budget takes 51.2% of the budget for personnel costs. MP Mercelina said that St. Maarten is not as rich, and it is not a social state like that of Holland. He lamented that St. Maarten doesn’t have a strong social system to back it up. He said this year BZV increases its cost from NAF 22.7M to NAF 24.5M he called on the Minister of VSA Emil Lee to take note of this increase especially since he is pushing the National Health Insurance. He said government spent NAF 8.7M in legal advises alone and while he has no problem on surrendering 10% of his salary but he does have a problem with the two MPS from Holland that are pushing it. He advised the Minister to follow the proper channel if he wants Members of Parliament to surrender 10% of their monthly salary.
Mercelina then attacked the budget’s calculation when it comes to Turn over Taxes and Timeshare fees even though the country is recovering.
Mercelina said he is of the opinion that the CFT is holding the country hostage. He said nothing was budgeted for the monster dump while he felt that too much money was budgeted for the restructuring the tax department. Mercelina stressed that a solution must be brought forward for the dump.
Mercelina focused on healthcare costs which he said is extremely high, he said that the Minister has again changed from the National Health Insurance (NHI) to Universal Health Coverage (UHI). He advised Minister of VSA on the requirements needed when applying the NHI. Mercelina outlined at least 10 conditions which he said St. Maarten does not meet any of them. He lamented that civil servants must contribute toward their healthcare. He said while the Minister wants to increase the tariffs for the Ambulance Service but so far, the Minister has not said who will pay the premiums. He also said that he is of the opinion that everything is done to gather money for a new hospital. He asked the Minister if it’s the CFT that are trying to impose the NHI on St. Maarten or if it's his ambition of the new hospital that pushes him to introduce the NHI or UHC. He warned the Minister that funds from SZV are not to be used for pet projects such as the new hospital or even the government building in the past. Mercelina said the construction of the hospital should be a Kingdom affair. Mercelina lamented the fact that the Dutch made huge commitments in the integrity and RST instead of focusing on constructing a proper hospital that will improve healthcare services on St. Maarten. He said that SZV must be reorganized in order to keep politicians and Ministers at arms-length.
Mercelina asked the government to explain parliament how they intend to tackle the long-term loan which stands at NAF.1B.
MP Rolando Brison slammed the Prime Minister for false statements she made during the budget presentation. Brison said that the Prime Minister told parliament that two years after the passage of IRMA the World Bank only deposited $22M out of the $550M for recovery. Brison lashed out at the government for the decisions they took for $22M from the trust fund. One is the offer from Piper Jaffrey that was willing to finance the reconstruction of the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIAE). Brison said that the government has sold out the country whether people want to admit it. He said that St. Maarten is busy selling out its assets such as the Airport and Port. He asked what St. Maarten that has urged the Netherlands to want a tighter grip on it. He also questioned the companies that are busy with the Saba banks to which St. Maarten has shared. Brison said he is of the opinion that these companies are busy with the exploration of oil. Brison called on the people of St. Maarten to keep a close eye on these developments because the Dutch presence and interest in St. Maarten is nothing but questionable. He alluded to the State Secretary Raymond Knops as being an “economic hitman”.
Brison called on the members of the second chamber to cut their hypocrisy when it comes the salary cut for Members of Parliament. Brison said MPs earn 5% more than the highest scale civil servants. He said that the Dutch MPs gets more perks as well as a subsidy from taxpayers for each political party while that is not done on St. Maarten.
Regarding the salary cuts, the Ministers are boasting about is very questionable because while the budget shows that the Minister's salary cuts their cabinets have seen huge increases for consultancy fees.
Brison addressed each Minister by pointing out what he has seen in the draft 2019 budget. He called on each Minister to be truthful to themselves while admonishing the Minister of Finance and Education for money they have set aside for advice and consultancy while the Ministry of TEATT received enormous cuts.
The USP MP called on the Minister of VROMI to tell parliament the truth regarding the money owed to the country by SXM Shipyard since that was not reflected in the 2019 budget. He also issued a call to local students and as well as the Minister of Education to support those students that want to study phycology since the Mental Health Foundation and Turning Point are having a hard d time finding doctors.
The budget debate has been adjourned until Tuesday afternoon.