Former Member of Parliament Frans Richardson over the weekend suggested a number of ways that the government of St. Maarten could offer true, meaningful economic relief to the people of St. Maarten if put in place for a two-year period. He said it is incomprehensible that almost every Caribbean nation can find ways, creative or direct, to offer their citizens relief, while St. Maarten still cannot do anything.
Richardson noted that food prices, construction material and other commodities have increased dramatically over the past year and even more so since the conflict in Ukraine kicked off. The business community, he said, has responded as they normally do in crisis situations; implemented an increase in prices and services in order to stay afloat.
“Typically, you would expect a government to look after its citizens when cost of living increases due to instances that are no fault of their own. The government controls or influences services and can implement measures that can alleviate the economic pressure on its citizens. All that is needed is the political will and basic human decency to do so. To date we have seen or heard nothing from the government with the exception of the occasional “We are working on it,” Richardson said.
To directly ease the burden of citizens, Richardson suggested that the Minister of Economic Affairs (TEATT) start with the immediate reduction of the gasoline tax and throughput fees which will also significantly affect GEBE’s fuel clause.
“If there is one thing that can immediately help the people of St. Maarten is doing everything to address that fuel clause. It is probably the lone economic killer for individual persons and businesses alike. You have to address it with indirect measures if you are serious about helping people. Along with the fuel clause you also have the throughput fee for containers which continue to drive food prices up. We import our food. With container prices already sky high due to the pandemic and even more so now with the conflict in Eastern Europe, we have to do something to keep costs for importers as low as possible. If not, you will continue to get what’s happening now, everything is being passed on to the consumer,” Richardson said.
Additionally, Richardson suggested that the Minister of Finance, with the Central Bank, arrange a reduction in the interest rates by 2% at the banks and across the board for every type of loan. He explained that interest rates often change in response to economic activity, and are lowered when the economy is down or sluggish.
“Not only would this result in savings for citizens, but it would also make borrowing money much cheaper. This encourages consumer spending at a time when you need the internal economy to circulate and perform well since the world is in economic chaos. More importantly, you want your people to have some kind of disposable income to buy necessities. But with high interest rates, high utility rates, high rent and high food prices, which translates to a high cost of living, people will continue to suffer without government action,” he said.
As for the Minister of Social Affairs (VSA), he urged the Minister to review his budget and “find approximately five million guilders” to establish a fund to assist seniors and mothers to purchase food goods and food supplies for babies and children under some sort of qualification scheme. Richardson said that there must be “unnecessary fat” (such as unspent funds for the pandemic) in the VSA budget that can be cut and re-directed to helping the vulnerable.
“Some of the most vulnerable are our seniors and our children and by extension their parents. Seniors have to deal with a miniscule pension that is being taxed leaving them with barely anything to live on when times were so called good. Imagine now. Mothers can’t send children to school with a good meal because the money simply isn’t there after basic need purchases including rent,” Richardson said.
“In times of crisis or hardships, a government must find a way. A government must put aside pet projects and lofty departmental initiatives and put those resources directly into helping its citizens. It can be done. Any government that tells you that it cannot be done have lost sight of their true calling as representatives of the people and have lost all connection with its citizens. If others around us can do it, why can’t we? It is time for the government of St. Maarten to finally do something substantive and meaningful for its citizens,” Richardson concluded.