PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Just before the parliament’s recess, the government presented a change to the law that slashed benefits of civil servants with 12.5 %. This “slashing”, the government argued at the time was a necessary condition to secure liquidity assistance from the Netherlands. One would recall that the government felt “vindicated”, by the upholding of these cost-cutting laws by the Constitutional Court.
“I have argued from day one that reducing the income of one of the few sectors that could continue to fully pay its workers during the pandemic, was a flawed economic argument. The counter argument, used by the Dutch government being one of solidarity made even less economic sense under the circumstances,” MP Wescot stated.
Be that as it may, the government and the parliament buckled under the pressure to insure that the country not be left without the much needed liquidity assistance.
But the previous Dutch State Secretary did not stop there. Even today his predecessor, current State Secretary van Huffelen is saddled with having to still further synchronize the law on the top incomes between the Caribbean countries, the MP continued.
“While measures were imposed on the working class (civil servants, teachers, etc.) on St. Maarten, the Netherlands was able to repeatedly jump to the rescue of its own workers, to booster its economy, which like St. Maarten endured the economic fallout of the global pandemic.”
A so-called country package and a COHO entity was imposed as the sustainable approach to reform the Caribbean countries.
“Had the St. Maarten government not been involved in their cat-and-mouse tactics towards the Netherlands and kept its eyes on the ball, we would today be standing in a much stronger position.”
Continued pressure by unions eventually lead to the government paying vacation allowance to civil servants and public school teachers in June. This lead to the unviable position of teachers employed by school boards being left to wonder about their 2022 vacation allowance, MP Wescot continued.
“Up to this day, the government can not give a straight account of the execution of the law on the 12.5% cut in benefits of (semi) government institution workers, such as subsidized school boards.”
Now the government is seeking to retroactively legitimize its action of having paid the vacation allowance, by amending the law that nullified vacation allowance since July 2020.
However, the exchange or swap as the government calls it is not part of the amendment, so currently the government is reneging on the 12.5% norm without approval, while admitting that there are still conditions to be met, MP Wescot explained.
The ministers are deliberately downplaying parliament’s role when it comes to budgetary control by alluding to the National Accountability Ordinance. That very ordinance is extremely restrictive when it comes to government taking financial decisions for which it has no budgetary approval. Even the quoted national interest norm is heavily conditioned.
In so many ways, the government has dropped the ball and has no one to blame if this entire matter blows up in their faces.
“Granted, you paid out vacation allowance for socio-economic reasons, that’s understandable”, MP Wescot reasoned.
But why submit the law to parliament in the midst of an impasse regarding liquidity assistance and unmet conditions? The civil servants have been paid, period.
But the law before parliament now is an infringement on the 12.5% law currently on the books, and no “swap” is included to balance it off until we can have the conversation about totally eliminating the 12.5% cut in workers’ benefit, whether it’s vacation pay, vacation days or overtime, MP Wescot stated in explaining her stated objection to government’s handling of this matter.