SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - From the appearances of it, the draft budget 2022 for the country is set to be approved by Parliament this week, notwithstanding the blatant violations of the constitution. To add insult to injury, the constitutional obligation to allow the ombudsman time to assess the constitutionality of this ordinance is not specifically included in the enforcement article of the ordinance, Member of Parliament (MP) Leader of the United Democrats (UD) Sarah Wescot Williams stated over the weekend. And for her the question remains why not.
The UP and NA factions act as if there is nothing wrong under the sun with approving a budget that is not ready for passing by parliament or do they care that this reflects negatively on parliament.
“I get the distinct feeling that the rush is to get the budget over with and “back to business as usual; we will cross the next bridge when we get there.”
For unknown reasons, except maybe egocentric ones, the majority refused to even consider a postponement of the passing (voting) on the budget. A budget with a deficit, which is against the constitution without having Kingdom government’s approval.
MP Wescot expects more of the same grandstanding with which the majority in parliament tries to spin these tactics of government. “I expect that this criticism will be countered by statements, such as the rights of parliament are being exercised and more of what we have heard before”’.
The MP countered, “Parliament’s budget right and amendment right are not meant to upstage the minsters of the very coalition he or she is from. Worse yet, of the same faction”.
The debates thus far have ended with a slew of motions, 2 amendments and a motion/amendment combination, that is nothing else than pandering to the institution in question. Does Turning Point deserve an increase? Most definitely! And so do countless other deserving subsidized institutions. Can they too forego the procedure for a budgetary increase? Where is the minister expected to allocate the funding for Turning Point from? Add it to the deficit? MP Wescot continued to query.
Another unbelievable stunt, in MP Wescot’s view is that the Prime Minister presents the budget of the Integrity Chamber (IC) and with the stroke of a pen, the coalition cuts this budget without asking what it is based on. In its 2020 report, the Integrity Chamber stated its budget was not sufficient. The Chamber must be working according to a government approved program. So how much does that cost? The year 2022 is the first year that the full budget of the Integrity Chamber is borne by the country St. Maarten and this is how we treat it?
Another case in point is the subsidy for carnival. “In the UP’s budget amendment, the direct subsidy that the TEATT ministry allocated to the SCDF for carnival is removed and put with the Tourism marketing budget, so-called because carnival marketing will go on bid. However, in the same budget, the TEATT minister says this will only happen in 2023. The TEATT minister has to now explain how that is going to work in 2022”.
The TEATT minister puts the Philipsburg Market on the capital budget of government, only to see it removed by his own faction, because “the market can potentially be rebuild/renovated by the Harbor. Was this not known when the budget was presented and does the Harbor not have enough issues to deal with as it is? While the capital budget is up in the air at this time, what is wrong with leaving the market on the budget and grab the first opportunity that presents itself to rebuild the market? What happened to the capital projects of 2021 that never got off the ground, such as the Vendors’ Village for NAf. 720.000, -- and the same Philipsburg market.
The VSA minister tells parliament in the budget that he is contemplating “a review of the vaccination program (3rd booster), yet his faction allocates an additional budget of f. 200.000,-- for free covid test kits. Now the minister has to scramble to create a policy for free test kits. Who gets and who has to buy? Should not the focus be on the approaching endemic status of the covid 19 virus, is my question, MP Wescot stated.
While the minister of TEATT announced a very prudent approach towards US preclearance on St. Maarten, his faction is hell bent on having the process started and reported on to parliament. No ifs or buts. With the first report due by March 31st.
And then a motion to the finance minister to instruct the CBCS to prioritize certain legislation. If this is the only way the NA/UP coalition can get the attention of our Central Bank, then something is seriously wrong. But then again, it could be just the optics.
I can only hope that all the ministers to whom these motions and amendments apply will give their honest take on these and not tell its coalition members what they want to hear, MP Wescot, who has asked for the ministers’ views on these motions, summarized.
“I guess at the end of the day, the spin doctors will rise and spin all of the above to their liking and the people of St. Maarten will have to wait and see how it all plays out”, the MP concluded.