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Island budget 2014 adopted on St. Eustatius

SATURDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2013

ST. EUSTATIUS–Thursday’s Island council meeting was dominated by two agenda points: the draft 2014 island budget and health concerns at temporary classrooms.  The last issue was brought forward by St. Eustatius Empowerment Party (STEP) councilman Franklin Brown, who voiced concerns about the location of classrooms that will be used to house pupils, whose regular rooms will be renovated as part of the upgrade programme for Statia’s schools.  Brown argued that the location, where vocational training project Zagen and Schaven is located, is right next to a garbage dump and therefore poses a health hazard for children.

Also, because of the business activities happening there, the noise levels would be unacceptably high. He wondered why alternatives, such as the buildings of the former medical school can- not be used instead. Commissioner Carlyle Tearr explained that the Medical School was still in operation when the search for a location was held and also said the garbage dump was not at that specific location.  Commissioner Reginald Zaandam said government building service Rijksgebouwendienst had confirmed there were no potential health hazards at that site.

“We have some rough weather ahead as a result of the extra austerity measures Holland is compelled to take in an effort to ad- here to budget rules of the European Union.”  As a result, some plans may be put on hold, Zaandam warned. For example, the $400 million cutbacks at the Ministry of Health will “surely” have ramifications for the health care system in the Caribbean Netherlands, the Commissioner said.   Zaandam stated that “based upon the cutbacks at the Ministry of Social affairs, I have my doubts if State Secretary Klijnsma will have financial space to live up to the promises made during her visit to Statia.”

Zaandam also referred to the ongoing court case of NuStar against the governments of Statia and the Netherlands. This is the result of the position the Dutch government took pertaining to the lease contract signed between the government of the then Netherlands Antilles and NuStar, which expires in 2014. The Dutch government is stating that with the constitutional change the contract is not valid anymore.

Zaandam said that as the result of additional austerity measures taken by the Dutch government for the fiscal year 2014 and European Union budget deficit stipulations, Statia government projects will take many years “because we have to accumulate the needed financial funds.

Since the financial subsidy coming to Statia yearly is kept to a bare minimum and we are compelled to have a balanced budget each year…our financial means are limited.”  One of the areas in which               government is to make investments will be in the quality of personnel. Zaandam added that high-level software for the government organization will be acquired “to connect all the organizational dots and make sure tasks can be carried out in a more professional way.”

Zaandam said the bud- get shows a surplus of US $200,000, and includes three interest-free loans and facilities provided by the Dutch government. A US $4,000,000 loan is for the schools’ renovation programme and $5.5 mil- lion for the construction of a new administration building. Both loans are repayable over 20 years. A third loan provides $927,203 in financing the start-up of the public entity.

Zaandam concluded that “for 2014 we will have to reassess our priorities.” Projects that will go ahead in 2014 are the resurfacing of the airport runway, the first phase of construction of a new administration building, continuation of the road infrastructure project, Orange Bay Project and the school renovation project.  In answer to independent councilman Reuben Merkman, Zaandam said $3 million was available from the Green Fund for Statia, Saba and Bonaire. Three projects have been identified to be financed from the fund: roaming animals, cliff erosion and agriculture.

He also replied to Merkman that the price for water will be $10 per cubic meter. Merkman also wanted to know how much was budgeted for infrastructural projects to which Zaandam answered that there was a total of $1.4 million available.

Henriquez suggested that the periods for paying back the interest-free loans could be extended to ease the pain of cutbacks. Zaandam replied that government would “certainly” try to negotiate a longer term, for example of 30 years, to repay the loan for a new administration building.   After Island Governor Gerald Berkel decided that there was no need for a roll-call vote, the 2014 bud- get was adopted.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

 

Statia opposition declare 2014 budget invalid

SATURDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2013

ST. EUSTATIUS–Opposi- tion Island Council member Franklin Brown of St. Eustatius Empowerment Party (STEP) and Chairman of the Democratic Party (DP) of St. Eustatius Koos Sneek have both questioned the legitimacy of the approval of the 2014 budget by the Island Council.  Brown has sent a letter to Dutch Government Representative Wilbert Stolte in which he questioned the legitimacy of Thursday’s meeting.

Without presenting a governing programme to the Island council, the coalition of United People Coalition (UPC) with independent Island Council members Millicent Lijfrock and Reuben Merkman attempted to pass the budget through the Island Council. Sneek claims the meeting was marred by “blunders, ignorance and irregularities.”  “At the time of the vote on the budget only two Island Council members, namely Elvin Henriquez (UPC) and Merkman, were present, which makes the vote invalid.

The budget was thus passed with no majority taking part in the vote as is required in accordance with the WolBES law,” the DP chairman said.  Also the meeting had been called on Tuesday, October 15, which was only two days prior to the meeting, which is in violation of Article 9.1 of the Island Council’s Rules of Order, which states that a meeting needs to be called seven days in advance.  “A previous agreement to hold the meeting at a later date was ignored,” said Sneek.

“This may also explain why the Island Council registrar was absent,” he added.  DP council woman Adelka Spanner was also absent from the meeting. She was abroad and could not be in Statia on time. Therefore, she decided to send her questions on the budget in writing to Governor Gerald Berkel. “His reply was that she would receive her answers within two weeks and unfortunately this would be after the handling of the budget,” Sneek explained.

In order for the coalition to have a quorum to start the meeting, all three coalition council members signed in, after which Lijfrock left the meeting and did not return. Brown signed in as only opposition member.  Sneek wondered what the reason was for calling the Island Council meeting at such short notice. Accord- ing to the WolBES law governing the public entities Bonaire, Statia and Saba, the island government has until November 15 to de- liver the budget to the Miister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations.

“The Island Council meeting followed a Central Committee meeting held on Monday, October 14, which apparently took place without a quorum of members being present. It should be mentioned here, that although in accordance with the WolBES Central Committee meetings need to be public, in Statia these meetings are not open to the public and held in secrecy,” Sneek added.

“After two-and-a-half hours of useless debate without a conclusion on garbage at a temporary school site, the meeting was adjourned for lunch. After lunch, the public noticed that Commissioner Carlyle Tearr did not return. It was said that he had to leave the island to travel to St. Maarten. Also for him, apparently the meeting was called on a too short notice and he decided that his business in St. Maarten was more important than to attend the budget debate and defend his portfolios in the most important Island Council meeting of the year,” said Sneek.

Before the deliberations on the budget started, Brown requested a head count. He had noticed that the ruling parties did not deem it fit to assure that a majority of them be present to ensure the budget would pass.  Chairman Island Governor Gerald Berkel, however, denied the head count as he felt there was no basis for it in the Rules of Order. Brown then left the meeting not to return.  After some hesitation the chairman decided to temporarily adjourn the meeting and requested council members present, including commissioner Zaandam, to retreat in a backroom. Shortly after they returned and the meeting continued with only two of the five council members present.

“This action is a gross violation of Article 30 of the WolBES, which stated that it requires a sitting majority of the council for any voting to be carried,” Brown stated in the letter he sent to Stolte on Thursday. Sneek said the short debate on the budget was “obviously a farce.”  “Based on this, no other conclusion can be made than that the vote is invalid and the budget meeting needs to be recalled. This will also allow council lady Spanner to receive the answers from the Executive Council to her questions prior to the vote on the budget,” Sneek stated.

Governor Berkel said in a reaction that the approval of the 2014 budget took place in accordance with “all applicable regulations and legislation and is therefore legally binding.” In response to Brown’s letter, the Governor said that Article 30 of the WolBES addresses under what condition a vote in the Island Council is considered valid. “I tried to explain to Mr. Brown that at the time of his request there was no item that was being considered for a vote on the floor of the council and hence a request for a roll call vote was pre- mature. He repeated his request for “role call” to establish a quorum which is also not permissible in the WolBES or in accordance with our current rules of order of the Island Council.

Once the quorum is established by the signing of the registry at the beginning of the meeting this quorum re- mains valid for the duration of that particular meeting. Mr. Brown subsequently left the meeting and did not participate in the remaining agenda items.”  Governor Berkel said there also seems to be some misunderstanding with regard to what took place at the end of the debate on the draft budget and the eventual approval of the budget as a formality.  “Article 33, Sub 3 states that if there is no request for a role call vote when a subject is tabled, then the proposal is approved. Considering that there was no request for role call vote at the end of the debate of agenda point 7 when this item was put to a vote, the item was adapted.”

As to the validity of the convocation leading up to the meeting, the Governor said that seeing that the budget debate was considered a matter of urgency, given the schedule of the Executive Council in the coming weeks, and in accordance with Article 8, Sub 3 of the Rules of Order, a meeting of the presidium was convened where the date, time and agenda of the Island Council meeting was established.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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