MP Wescot expresses her utter disappointment in the government’s rhetoric regarding relief to the population
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MP Wescot expresses her utter disappointment in the government’s rhetoric regarding relief to the population

MP Sarah Wescot Williams MP Sarah Wescot Williams

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - It’s about a month ago, that the Minister of TEATT, Roger Lawrence said that he had made a proposal to “offer relief to consumers at the pumps”, Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot Williams said in a press statement.

“The minister went on to say that he had received the support of the council of ministers before he made the announcement publicly. In fact, the minister stated that he “had collaborated with his colleagues, the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Finance. To add insult to injury, that relevant article in a local newspaper was pictured with the 3 aforementioned ministers, MP Wescot recalls.

The minister alluded to the role of his 2 colleagues in this respect, namely “to enact changes within our legislation….” And that the next step was to quickly submit draft legislation for its approval.

MP Wescot surmised that calculations were already made, as the minister of TEATT recounted a month ago that the proposal will reduce government’s duty revenue by approximately 14 percent.

“As member of parliament and very aware of the burden for so many households due to the rising cost of living, I have been looking at the buildup of the cost of fuel at the pumps and noting the income for government from TOT on 2 levels and excise duties.”

I have been promoting a combination of actions to be undertaken by the government to assist the community in general and the lower income earners in particular. How much longer must I be content with the promise that the basket of controlled goods will be expanded? That the 12.5% reduction in benefits will be reversed? That agriculture and fishery will receive a real boost to lower the cost of at least these food items.

MP Wescot is frustrated by the obvious flipflop last week: “Now there is a different tune coming from the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister, with the contradictory arguments such as, we are comparing apples and pears, when members of the media referenced to relief given by other islands in the region.”

What is clear, MP Wescot continued, is that the government according to the Minister of Finance is looking for income to substitute for the loss for government, if the relief is granted to the consumers on St. Maarten, and the Prime Minister did not help things by suggesting that legislation is going back and forth and sort of alluded that she was picking up the slack for the minister of TEATT, who was absent.

From these statements, I have to conclude that it is not the slowness of the legislative process to enact relief for the citizens, but rather the lack of cohesion between the government ministers and between the governing parties, MP Wescot once again made clear.

“Giving the minister the authority to adjust tax rates etc. via a lower legislative instrument, as proposed by a member of parliament will not solve the problem and is but a distraction from the real matter at hand.”

“Going by the very minimal concrete information provided by the respective ministers on this topic, I make the following assumptions and call upon the government to act.”

The member of parliament proceeded to provide the following synopsis: “Fourteen percent of the budgeted income for excise duties (7 m) amounts to 980.000 guilders. This is the “hole” the government apparently has to fill if relief is granted. The minister did however not reveal what the reduction would entail for the consumer.

However, if the government is serious about this relief (which I doubt) I propose the following approach:

In 2021, it was budgeted that the government would receive 9.4 million guilders in excises: in 2022 this amount was lowered to 7 million, because in 2020 only 6.6 million guilders were collected from excise duties.

Every quarter the governments provides the budgetary realization numbers. The full year 2021 yielded 9.5 million in excise duties. I therefore conclude, unless otherwise proven, that the excise income in 2022 will be over budget.”

From that synopsis, MP Wescot concluded her advice “that the government has under budgeted the excise duties amount 2022, and since the ministers seem to be staring down a black hole, my advice is to adjust that number in tune with a real projection and provide the relief to the consumer as promised, since other budget amendments are also projected.

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