PHILIPSBURG:--- In a press release, Gracita Arrindell said the billion-dollar question facing government and our citizens is, where do we find the right balance between much-needed austerity measures as demanded by the Dutch government in exchange for temporary liquidity (cash support) and the right balance to get the economy moving in the right direction and still take care of our people. After fierce resistance from the islands against the first ‘Caribbean Entity’ proposal, the Dutch cabinet through its State Secretary for Kingdom and interior government relation Mr. Knops finally signed separate agreements with respectfully Aruba and Curacao. It is expected that Sint Maarten will soon fall in line. It is just a matter of time.”
Arrindell states: “While negotiations continue between our local government and State Secretary Knops, one of the main political hot potatoes is the request for a 12.5% cut in civil servant’s salaries, excluding personnel that falls under the category of first or -frontline responders. This includes police, coastguard, fire department etc. Other personnel including teachers do not fall under this arrangement. This is a divisive form of discrimination of one category of civil servants against the others and it is wrong.”
“This exemption in the agreement is ill- advised and unfair. In fact this clause goes against one of the fourteen principles of good governance codified in Dutch public administration. The so-called ‘algemene beginselen van behoorlijk bestuur’ ( abbb’s). One such covenant is the principle of equality. ‘Gelijkheids beginsel’ ‘Gelijke gevallen op gelijke wijze behandelen’. ‘Equal cases must be dealt with equally’. If that is the case then one can argue that all civil servants should fall under the 12.5% measure. To be clear on this point, we do Not support the implementation of the 12.5% salary cut for any civil servant at this time. If carried through though this measure will further worsen our already fragile economy. Keep in mind that the tourism/ hotel sector is still mostly closed with thousands of people still out of work or working part time with less pay at least for the foreseeable future”.
“Now is not the time to add another estimated 1900 people or part thereof from the public sector to this equation. Government employees are paid in the local guilder currency. Our economy is USA dollar based and has been such for decades. Now is not the time to swipe more money from the pockets of this category of workers. Many questions remain unanswered. Where do they turn to cover this gap? What effect will this salary cut have on those civil servants who need a loan to purchase a home. What will the long-term effect or benefit be since Sint Maarten government must repay this loan?”
PPA leader said; “We all agree that cutting waste in government is necessary. Waste of public funds often paired with unfriendly civil- service leaves much room for improvement. It has been a thorn at the side of many local citizens as well as consecutive Dutch governments. The inefficient manner in which our local governments and government-owned companies conducted the people’s business in the past, high taxes, slow innovations (clients must still stand in line for a stamp), and again a substandard infrastructure, merits the criticism and demand for reform and efficiency. Many agree that paying taxes is not an issue. The issue is seeing where and how the money is reflected in the quality of our island and it improves the lives of our citizens. Especially that of our children and our seniors. This is the crux of the matter that must be fixed and it must be done sooner rather than later”.
Gracita continues: “Keeping this requirement in order to provide yet another financial lifeline to government is bad for productivity, motivation, aspiration and it is unfair to those who must make this sacrifice of 12.5 % cut. In general this condition is bad for both growth and coveted prosperity”.
“What are we to do, where to go from here? How to cut waste in the public sector without giving into the demand of 12.5% salary cuts. We are convinced that governments are creative in finding a solution to generate more income for its coffers to satisfy the Dutch government’s demand without making this sacrifice in exchange for budget support. Here are a few examples of un or- over-tapped sources of income:
1.Lands lotterij. This entity is still a joint Curacao- Sint Maarten institution located in Curacao. Sint Maarten should consider retaking its shares and investing a Sint Maarten lottery managed as professionally as done in Curacao. It remains unclear how the current lottery system benefits government coffers and the overall landscape of our island. Proceeds must be directly allocated to education, sports and art.
2. Introduce the lucrative offshore sector in accordance with the international transparency laws that guides this financial sector. Again, Holland knows how to implement this well. After all our Kingdom ( mostly Holland) profits handsomely from this source of income”.
Arrindell concludes; “The current crisis is global. However it is not a static process. It is the evolution of the economic of the effects of Covid-19 pandemic paired with decades of mismanagement, lack of long-term planning and investment in human capital, corruption and lack of pride to demand openness and transparency from governments that is plaguing us. The markets will rebound, because history has proven it usually does after each crisis. As a small exporting economy with open borders, and no import duties, with liquid banks, government must get hold of this process and submit a counter proposal that will help rather than stagnate our economy. Let us not drain the economy with short-term harmful measures to prove a point we have failed and therefore condemns the innocent to pay the price and suffer. Now is not the time.”