“Budget 2023 full of  holes, literally and figuratively speaking, and parliament quickly becoming a toothless tiger”.

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Member of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams

 

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — “After a week of public debates and diatribes, I guess  the government finally could  breathe a sigh of relief, as the budget 2023 was passed by a slim majority late on Friday”, MP  Wescot stated over the weekend.

“It is beyond me that some persons were actually  lead to believe that this budget is a workable budget. Maybe on paper, but legally and practically, the budget was but a dressed up way of making sure it was balanced  and  adopted by March 31, 2023.”

The  defense by some  that this budget was vetted by the Council of Advice and the CFT is yet another smoke screen, as these entities have their own responsibilities and roles in the budgetary and legislation processes. Parliament’s role is a distinct one of oversight and supervision. And a budget is one of the few instances that a government can be grilled by parliament  on  all its stated intentions and  its financial management, the MP continued.

The CFT’s directive that the budget must be balanced has been achieved.

“The question is how? And as with the government’s claim to be the longest serving one, the question is also at what cost? Will we get an amended budget some time in June, or will the government repeat the trickery of the budget 2022, amended only in November of the same year?”, the MP questioned. 

“This is against all regulations and diminishes the parliamentary oversight to a toothless tiger.”

Making her point, MP Wescot explains: “If as the government purports, expectations are that income will increase in the coming months and thus the necessary funds can be reinstated in the budget, why could that not arguably be put in the budget now, as was done with some items, such as Airbnb and the visitor’s/health tax?”

That is what a budget is all about, projections and expectations. “You can not knowingly keep your budget lower than contractual obligations, in the hope that at some point, you can supplement these items”.

“On one hand, the government is holding on for  dear life to policies that are obviously outdated and need to be revisited urgently, on the other hand based on the country package, we have a plethora of studies and reports with which nothing is being done”.

The Nature Ordinance, the National Development Vision, the Roadmap to Economic Recovery for St. Maarten, all of these require public-private partnerships and consultations, terms however the  government uses only when convenient.

Government for 4 days was able to dodge matters such as GEBE, Justice personnel, Crime Fund, consultant budgets, tax reform, electoral reform, district cleaning, pension indexation, education institutions, tendering procedures,  and many more.

“I remain amazed at the fact that a government, whose members were the biggest obstructionists to the Trust Fund, today brag and pose  incessantly regarding projects that are now rolling out or coming on line by the same Trust Fund.”

“The hospital miraculously just started to move; Belvedere never had more pictures taken of its home repairs by a government that vehemently opposed the Trust Fund. And lest we forget, the airport would have been much further, were it not for this government’s shenanigans to begin with.”

Smoke  screens and lack of cohesion between government and its parliamentary support were palpable, even though the biggest cheerleaders tried their utmost to spin and deflect.

“Many cardinal points were lost in the ruse surrounding the budget debate. For the record I repeat that the government rushed the handling of the budget to comply with the deadline given by the CFT. Not complying with such, could have lead to an instruction by the Kingdom Council of Ministers. The budget however cannot be ratified by March 31st, because the 6 weeks period needs to be observed, but I guess with parliament’s approval, the government at least got some reprieve”, MP Wescot further stated.

“Even so, after its ratification, the CFT needs to ascertain that the budget remained in accordance with the norms as stipulated in the financial supervision law. This is highly questionable, given the last amendment made to the budget by a majority in parliament.

This amendment, initiated by the UP faction, adds NAf. 5 million to the capital budget, without a source of capital income (loan etc), thereby throwing the 2023 capital account out of balance and without coverage for the approximately 5 million guilders added in the hastily put together amendment”, concluded MP Wescot.