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St. Maarten, The Hague agree to solve sticky issues together

FRIDAY, 01 MARCH 2013

THE HAGUE–St. Maarten Finance Minister Roland Tuitt and Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk agreed on Thursday to establish a small joint committee on a technical level to sort out the sticky issues between the two countries.

Tuitt and Plasterk agreed that a more proactive approach was needed to work out issues affecting the relationship between the two countries. At the moment these issues mostly have to do with the Dutch public entities St. Eustatius and Saba.

The Dutch Government wants St. Maarten to solve issues such as the taxation on goods for St. Eustatius and Saba, the facilities for the medical evacuation helicopter, the departure tax and the landing of the telecommunications cable in St. Maarten. Minister Plasterk put his demands in a letter that he sent to St. Maarten Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams earlier this month.

The idea is that on a technical level civil servants, two of each country, will discuss the issues and come up with solutions, after which these can be decided on at political level, explained Tuitt, following a meeting with Plasterk at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK in The Hague on Thursday.

It was also agreed during this meeting that St. Maarten will make an inventory of the technical assistance that it needs, and where exactly these technical assistants from The Netherlands should be placed in St. Maarten’s government administration. A number of ministries and departments are understaffed and need support.

Tuitt qualified the meeting with Plasterk as “positive.” “We agreed to have a more open and free dialogue. We have to communicate on all levels, so we can get things done in the best interest of St. Maarten,” he said.

More comprehension

In general, Tuitt was satisfied about his trip to The Netherlands. “My main objective was to create more comprehension for St. Maarten, explain our situation and how we do things. In that sense the timing was perfect, because we were able to give the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament information that they were not aware of,” he said.

Issues that came up in the meeting with the Second Chamber were the Turn-over Tax (ToT) system in St. Maarten, the general financial situation and St. Maarten’s successful efforts to set up a better operational financial system, the budgetary process and, very important, St. Maarten’s claim that it still has a right to funds that had been allocated under the debt relief exercise.

“The main purpose was to inform the Second Chamber on certain aspects that we think weren’t very clear to them. We wanted to give them the correct and accurate information,” said Tuitt about his meeting with the Dutch Parliament on Tuesday. He said there were indeed some differences of opinion between the St. Maarten Government and Dutch Parliament.

One such issue that St. Maarten and The Hague disagree on is the taxation of goods destined for St. Eustatius and Saba. The Dutch Government wants St. Maarten to stop levying Turn-over Tax on these goods, which they say is resulting in a double taxation, since St. Eustatius and Saba are also paying a general sales tax ABB.

But St. Maarten sees this matter differently. “We explained the Second Chamber that the ToT was instituted years ago, and that it was included in the price of the products and services. Some businesses calculate the ToT in their product and some absorb it. It is hard to determine that difference,” said Tuitt.

Debt relief

Another issue that the two governments disagree on is the debt relief, an exercise that was aimed at giving Curaçao and St. Maarten a healthy start when they attained the status of Country in the Kingdom on October 10, 2010. The Dutch Government considers this a closed chapter, but St. Maarten feels it is still entitled to a portion of the funds that were reserved at the time.

Tuitt told the Second Chamber that in St. Maarten’s opinion the debt relief exercise, which was anchored in the debt reorganisation law (Rijkswet Schuldsanering), should be properly completed. “The process was terminated one-sided, and that is not how we think it should be,” said Tuitt.

According to St. Maarten, it is still entitled to almost NAf. 120 million of the NAf. 183 million that was allocated in 2010. The Netherlands paid off St. Maarten’s NAf. 65.5 million debt to the Antillean General Pension Fund APNA. “We think that money should still be available.” St. Maarten is preparing a court case against the Dutch Government. Lawyers are currently evaluating to which court to take this case.

The Hague has contended that these funds are no longer available, because St. Maarten wasn’t able to substantiate its claims. But Philipsburg contradicts this. “We were able to substantiate a number of bills. The problem is that the invoices weren’t split up and put together. You cannot put all invoices on one heap. They should be seen separately. We remain of the opinion that the invoices that we were able to substantiate should still be paid,” said Tuitt.

Tuitt explained to the Second Chamber that St. Maarten’s 2013 budget had been decreased by NAf. 25 million to NAf. 457 million and that it had been approved by the Council for Financial Supervision CFT. “They were happy to hear that.”

The Minister said he hoped that the adapted budget would be approved by St. Maarten’s Parliament by the end of March. An approved budget by both the CFT and St. Maarten’s Parliament is important in order to comply with the Financial Supervision Law and to avoid an instruction of the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

COLA

While in The Netherlands, Tuitt and his delegation had a meeting with the CAOP, a Dutch centre that is specialised in labour affairs in the public sector. It was agreed that CAOP will assist St. Maarten to finalise a study on the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for civil servants.

CAOP specialists are expected to come to St. Maarten in April to meet with all stakeholders, including the labour unions. “They will draft a report, based on which we can negotiate with the unions,” said Tuitt, who stressed that CAOP is an independent party specialised in labour affairs.

Tuitt and his delegation, consisting of Policy Advisor Xavier Blackman and Concern Controller Anton Peels, travel back to St. Maarten today, Friday. In The Netherlands, the delegation was supported by the Cabinet of the St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary.

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