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Minister Tuitt: St. Maarten will need its own CFT

SATURDAY, 26 JANUARY 2013

PHILIPSBURG–With the five-year evaluation of the functioning of the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT slated to take place next year, Finance Minister Roland Tuitt is already setting the stage and the mindset that the country will need its own CFT-like operation.

Tuitt told the Central Committee of Parliament on Friday that if the CFT is deemed not necessary after the evaluation, because the country is up to par with its financial management, in order to keep on the right path financial supervision will have to continue.

That supervision will come not in the form of a body like the current CFT, but via review by the government’s internal financial management, Government Accountants Bureau SOAB, and ultimately the General Audit Chamber, he explained.
He informed Members of Parliament (MPs) that the draft 2013 budget is in the final stages of preparation and government is working to cut the budget by some NAf. 25 million as recommended by CFT. The proposal for the cutback was also outlined to MPs by CFT on Thursday. The minister hopes the budget will be adjusted to meet the approval of CFT and the Advisory Council in the coming two weeks so it can be tabled in Parliament in February.

“I don’t agree with CFT to cut the budget, but we will do it,” Tuitt said, explaining that government is seeking to spend money that should have been spent all along.

The proposal to increase the Turnover Tax (ToT) on alcohol and tobacco products to raise revenues for the budget will “not affect the livelihood of the common man. We thought it through,” Tuitt said, in answering a question for Democratic Party (DP) MP Roy Marlin. It will basically be “a tax on unhealthy lifestyles.”

The increases will not affect the country’s duty-free status, the minister said, allaying concerns from National Alliance (NA) MP Louie Laveist. He pointed out that cigarettes cost about US $2 here while in the United States a pack costs about US $10 and in the euro zone, eight euros. That pricing structure allows for more taxes to be levied on tobacco items, but not on alcohol because of competition from the French side.
The 2011 annual accounts should be finalised next month and work will start on the 2012 accounts so they are ready within the period stipulated by law. “We should make it within the period if we get no unforeseen circumstances,” Tuitt said. The 2010 annual accounts should already be with Parliament as it has been audited by SOAB and the General Audit Chamber.

The minister is also working on creating “a real treasury” for the country that will help out with budget preparation, government investment policy, cash flow projection and overall planning review for the annual and multiannual budgets. The present treasury department is “not doing the work of a treasury.”

Dealing with United People’s (UP) party MP Jules James’ question about government seeking a bond from the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten, the minister explained that once the budget is approved, a request for approval to acquire a loan via a bond will be submitted to CFT. The bond funds will be used to shore up the country’s reserves and carry out capital projects such as purchasing Emilio Wilson Estate for preservation.

Government has several court cases pending with creditors. If judgements are against government, the bills will be submitted to the Dutch Government to clear via the promised debt relief. Tuitt said government would use a letter from former Dutch Minister of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations Piet Hein Donner to access the money.
Government will also seek to speed up the process of dividing assets and liabilities of the former Netherlands Antilles to put a halt to Curaçao “plundering” assets belonging to St. Maarten, the minister said in response to a query from MP Gracita Arrindell (UP) about the progress of the division.

Tuitt was in Parliament for the continuation of a session that had started late October 2012. He had requested the meeting to give Members of Parliament (MPs) a status report on the country’s financial situation. The meeting was adjourned until further notice after the minister answered the questions from the first round. This was to accommodate another meeting on his schedule.

The meeting almost came to a halt before the minister had completed answering the questions, as only the NA and UP fractions were present in the General Assembly Hall; at least three fractions need to be represented for Central Committee meetings to proceed. MP Gracita Arrindell (UP) raised the issue and requested President of Parliament Rodolphe Samuel to do a roll call. However, before this could be carried out MP Louie Laveist (NA) asked for an adjournment. When the meeting resumed, independent MP Patrick Illidge was present, so the meeting continued.

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