PHILIPSBURG – Minister of Finance Richard Gibson addressed the Press in Wednesday’s, March 8, Council of Minister’s press briefing.
First, he mentioned the closing of the Receiver’s and Census Offices “because of a smell that was detected this morning in the building. It has not been discovered yet where that smell is coming from, what’s the source of the smell or the nature of the smell, whether it is sewage, electrical, or another.”
“The Fire Department came and aired out the building, and hopefully by lunchtime there is a plan that the Receiver of taxes, the Census office will again open,” he said.
“We’ve been experiencing breach in terms of a virus attack again. It just goes to prove how vulnerable our system is… Our IT system is being held together with hanger wires and tape. And it confirms what I’ve been saying for quite some time. That the entire IT system of government needs a complete overhaul. Not only the Tax Department itself, but in general,” Minister Gibson stressed.
The Minister said that to fundamentally fix this problem, he’s spoken to CFT and members of the Kingdom Government, “to facilitate borrowing so that this problem could be eliminated…Steps will be taken also to start improving several areas in the system.”
“That we are still struggling with these kinds of issues, and while other countries are way ahead of us as far as new IT systems are concerned, it no longer can be delayed and in the 2017 budget, provisions have been made to be able, as far as capital expenditures are concerned, to spend proximately 6 million guilders this year on fixing the Tax Department,” the Minister continued.
“At the same time we’re busy with tax reform. And for the last couple of months we’ve been talking to various experts in the field and again as far as that is concerned, I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel. The solutions to get this done also seem to be in range,” he explained.
In addition, on March 2, a letter was received from the CFT, which was sent to the Kingdom government reporting on the status of the various areas that was subject of the instruction issued to the government of St. Maarten in 2015.
“That (instruction) was issued at a time by the Kingdom government to the government of St. Maarten in 2015. One of those items required a demand that we compensate for the deficits that were built up in the past, so annually budgets were being prepared, not met and from that deficits were created, and debts just kept piling up to the point where the Kingdom government no longer found that that was a responsible way to proceed and then demanded an instruction that we have to compensate for those deficits,” Minister Gibson explained.
“The second item on the four items in the instruction regarding that all health and pension premiums had to become part of the budget of the country, so in the revenues that you project that you’re receiving you had to also include next to that the expenditures you had for health care, as well as pension premiums. The third item on the instruction was that they had to resolve all of the back payments that existed at the time. They had to resolve the delinquent accounts that were open where creditors were not being paid. The fourth item on the instruction was that we had to take measures to make health and pension systems financially viable,” he continued.
The CFT letter basically states that the 4 items in that instruction issued to the government in 2015, St. Maarten has substantially complied with all of the instructions.
“Also, as far as the instruction, however, relative to making health and pension funds financially viable, that can only be finalized with the legislation, so the preparatory steps that we have taken, the CFT has recognized those steps. However, it takes a law from Parliament to confirm those preparations to take, and they’ve given us until the end of 2017, based on the action plan that we have presented, to drive that legislation to Parliament, and obtain the decision from Parliament to finalize that 4th item completely,” Minister Gibson stated.
“So, I think it’s something that we could celebrate…That a financial basis now exists in St. Maarten that we could start building on in a constructive way forward,” he concluded.