The debate in the Island Council on the budget took place on November 14. The most important debate of the year was held without most of us, including myself, having noticed it. This could happen because no official announcement was made through the media.
The island council members were not sent a convocation with an agenda that included the budget 2017 either. An agenda was sent out a little over 24 hours prior to the meeting, but mentioned only the first budget amendment and quarterly report 2016. Disturbing is that the bylaw required two weeks for scrutiny of the budget by the public was not adhered to. All in all, this is another low in the democratic process on Statia.
The debate in the island council was therefore a mere one-sided puppy show, where all present were in favor of this product from the PLP/Merkman coalition. The opposition was again neatly sidelined so no difficult questions or revelations would occur. We all know that this Commissioner of Finance never informs the public what exactly she has concocted unless the members of the opposition reveal things to the public during the debate. I therefore take the liberty to bring a few things to everyone’s attention.
To start off, this skeleton budget only allows to pay the regular bills. There is no money available to carry out all those beautiful projects that were promised to us during the election campaign.
Government is still struggling with the collective sector. No information is available to them about the Tourism Development Foundation and the Road Fund. The non-functioning Road Fund should have been dissolved long ago. Government here got stuck with a debt to OBNA of a few hundred thousand dollars.
Although, in the opinion of CFT the present government organization is not up to her task, no budget is available to fill 13 most critical vacancies. As soon as KPMG leaves one will see all improvements made this year disappear and we will be back by square one.
In one of the letters from BZK mention was made that, although there is an agreement, no formal request has been made to the ministry for an additional $696,000 mentioned as income in the budget, to finance the remainder of the plan of approach. This may even further jeopardize the execution of a plan that has brought very little result until now.
The budget includes the expected deficit of the year 2015 of $696,000. This is about double the amount the Commissioner of Finance wanted us to believe. The island council has still not seen the annual account 2015 nor the accountants report. This amount may therefore be higher still.
Nothing is budgeted for maintenance and training/education of personnel. Seeing the state of our buildings and infrastructure this will guarantee further deterioration. There is no longer mention made of a new administration building. $175,000 of architect fees have gone in the drain. The money that was available for a new air control tower seems to be no longer there. Lack of money for training or education and not filling 13 key positions, will not lead to the improvement of the organization which we so desperately need.
CFT advises to use the earmarked reserve, of 1.7 million for economic development, for financing of mentioned 13 key positions instead. It is good to mention that this amount has been left there before we reached public entity status by the then DP government. Problem here is however, that this amount is only on the books. The cash in the meantime has evaporated, the money simply is not there.
To improve income, government is planning to increase several fees for the public and business sector. It is the intention to increase “erfpacht” and land rent tenfold. The budget mentions that land rent in the industrial area even should increase from 2 dollars per m2 to no less than 400 dollars. One may wonder who wants to pay that amount of rent, while you can buy a property for less than 30 dollars per m2.
Government expects increased revenue from the harbor through the new harbor ordinance to be introduced in the beginning of 2017. One may wonder here, what is going on. We just got a new ordinance in force since September and a next one is already coming up. Not to mention the court cases in the pipeline challenging the running ordinance.
Government expects that the idle waste plant at Zeelandia now will be operational in the second half of next year. They expect to waste another year before the plant will be operational. Furthermore, no income is mentioned in the budget for our garbage collection fee, which should have been introduced since last July.
Government intends to do something about the collection of room tax. Their books say only two hotels are paying. How difficult can it be, with only a handful hotels on the island, we still don’t know who is not paying.
After drastically cutting subsidies to foundations last year, still subsidy to the Monuments Foundation and SECAR will be further reduced. There is no longer subsidy in the budget for SSWWO (Community Center) and no funding for New Challenge Foundation (formerly Edupartners).
The budget mentions that for the first time since 2004, salaries will be increased with 1.5% and that this is the first time this happens since 2004. This contradicts statements by the commissioner during the central committee meeting on the budget amendment 2016, where she stated that 1.5% was paid out to the civil servants on November 3.
In conclusion, the financial outlook for 2017 shows a further degrading financial situation for Statia. The failing results of the plan of approach and the deteriorating relations with The Hague will both hamper a speedy recovery.