2012 budget approved by St. Maarten parliament after four days of deliberations


PHILIPSBURG--The country's budget for 2012 was approved on Thursday night, bringing to a close four days of debate by Members of Parliament (MPs) and presentations by the Council of Ministers.

The debate was punctuated by the tabling of several motions instructing government to come up with solutions to several issues. The majority of the motions were adopted by Parliament.

The budget was approved by the nine votes of MPs supporting the United People's (UP) party/Democratic Party (DP)/Illidge coalition. The five members of opposition National Alliance (NA) and independent MP Frans Richardson did not vote on the budget, opting to leave the General Assembly Hall before they were called on to vote.

The total operating expenses for 2012 are budgeted at NAf. 432.5 million, an increase of NAf. 11.6 million or 2.8 per cent compared to 2011. As required by law, the total operating income and expenses are balanced; the budget has no deficit and no surplus. The total NAf. 65.6 million in capital expenditures will be financed in part by government's available cash (NAf. 23.8 million) and bonds to be issued (NAf. 37.3 million).

NA leader MP William Marlin said before leaving that he and his fellow NA members could "not find themselves in all aspects of the budget" although they were "in favour of many elements." They also don't believe it is truly balanced.

Marlin also rebutted statements from MP Leroy de Weever (DP) that NA was against the budget that would make it possible for government to purchase land from the James family after drawn-out negotiation, a plea made consistently throughout the Central Committee meeting and plenary session of Parliament on the budget.

Marlin said the budget was not about the James family and that NA also was not against subsidies for non-governmental organisations or even against salaries for MPs, which are contained in the budget.

De Weever called the NA's and Frans Richardson's stance against the budget "indicative of hypocrisy."

MP Roy Marlin (DP) also criticised the NA and Richardson for walking out instead of supporting the budget. He said the budget was voted on first by chapters and then as a whole, and if NA truly wanted government to resolve the land purchase with the James family and was in favour of the subsidies, NA members should have voted on those chapters.

"I am not a coward," MP Johan "Janchi" Leonard (UP) said as he voted for the budget. He said the MPs who had left without voting had demonstrated that they were "not capable of taking responsibility" and they should have stayed and told the people they represented they were against the budget.

His comment about cowardice stemmed from voting against a motion to protect Emilio Wilson Estate from development after being a part of the People's Progressive Alliance (PPA) whose manifesto called for protecting the estate.

After the meeting closed, President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell and General Secretary of Parliament Jozef Semeleer signed the letter to Governor Eugene Holiday informing him that the budget, which is presented in the form of a law, had been approved by Parliament. The budget law will take effect once Holiday signs it. The letter and the budget will be delivered to the Cabinet of the Governor today, Friday.

The budget still has to clear one more hurdle: scrutiny by the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT. The committee has already given preliminary approval of the draft budget, although it has some concerns about government's intention to raise some NAf. 21 million in back rental taxes owed by non-resident condo owners.

The Finance Ministry has provided a detailed plan of approach on exactly how it will execute this action and a timeline was included in the plan of approach, making it possible to oversee the project and determine ahead of time whether corrective measures were necessary, Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto had said earlier in the week.