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Plenary session on draft 2013 budget starts in St. Maarten parliament


PHILIPSBURG–The draft 2013 budget has entered the final stage before Parliament takes a vote on whether to approve it. The plenary session of Parliament began on Monday afternoon with the seven members of the Council of Ministers making presentations on the work of their ministries, plans and programmes for the rest of the year.

The debate went on until after 9:00pm with only United People’s (UP) party interim fraction leader Member of Parliament (MP) Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce making her statement and posing questions to ministers on issues raised in their presentations and on their portfolios in general. The debate continues today, Tuesday, at 9:00am, with more questions from MPs and answers from ministers.

The meeting was postponed until today after Democratic Party (DP) MP Roy Marlin requested a vote on whether the meeting should continue at the later hour, as the MPs, ministers and civil servants had been busy since early in the morning. The majority of MPs voted to stop the meeting for the night.

Parliament hopes to wrap up the debate and have the budget tabled for a vote of approval at least before the week comes to a close.

MP Meyers-Olivacce stated at the start of the meeting that her party had protested the closure of the Central Committee meeting early Saturday. Fellow UP Parliamentarian Jules James said UP would take the matter further, as had been stated in the party’s letter to President of Parliament Rodolphe Samuel.

Much of the information from the ministers at the beginning of the plenary session also had been put forward in the Central Committee meetings that occupied MPs for the whole of last week.

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams stated in her presentation that other countries worldwide were “grappling” with having their budgets approved on time, so St. Maarten’s struggles were not unique. She said government was very much aware that the budget was late getting to Parliament, but it should be noted that the budget had come to Parliament having passed the scrutiny and lived up to the requirements of the kingdom laws on temporary financial supervision.

The lateness of the budget and the fact that it was made public prior to the deliberations in the Central Committee of Parliament have caused some complications. The availability of the budget online means that members of the public could and did take the opportunity to read the budget and make suggestions to government. However, due to the lateness, it is somewhat difficult to take the suggestions into consideration, she noted.

Wescot-Williams commended MPs Frans Richardson (independent) and Johan Leonard (United People’s party) for submitting their draft legislation to ban the importation, distribution and sale of single-use plastic bags. She called on the public to develop “an appreciation for cleanliness” and to be cognisant of the amount of money paid by government to keep the country clean.

Finance Minister Roland Tuitt outlined the basics of the draft budget that stands at NAf. 457,874,400, some NAf. 25,324,800 more than the 2012 approved budget. Government took no loans in 2012. For this year, the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten will be approached to float a bond of some NAf. 150 million to cover capital projects.

Once the budget is passed by Parliament, a budget booklet will be produced by the Finance Ministry, Tuitt said, as a way for the community to be better informed “about how their money will be used.”

He said keeping the balance in government’s finances “needs constant review” and buffering against external shocks to the economy where possible.

Deputy Prime Minister/Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Development, Environment and Infrastructure William Marlin outlined several projects in his ministry, including the completion of the Dutch Quarter main road, with work slated to start during the summer months and be concluded by December 15. He will sign off soon on the advice to connect the St. Peters main road to the main sewage line on L.B. Scott Road.

Marlin also highlighted challenges faced by St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation with tenants adding rooms to rented houses, larger families living in houses designed for families of no more than four people and tenants who are delinquent with their rent.

He also revealed plans for a solar farm in Philipsburg and the possibility of replacing fossil fuel generators at the Cay Bay power plant with ones that are more environmentally friendly.

Justice Minister Roland Duncan again underscored his issues with the Coast Guard and the constraints his ministry faces with budget cuts. He said the Justice system continued to do its job in spite of many challenges.

Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs Minister Silveria Jacobs outlined her ministry’s budget per department and highlighted several projects, including a week of celebrations leading up to St. Maarten/St. Martin Day (November 11), work to get Fort Amsterdam on the World Heritage List and support for the country’s students at home and abroad.

Public Health, Social Development and Labour Minister Cornelius de Weever also outlined his ministry’s work and plans. He pointed out that customer service definitely had improved after emphasis was placed on training and upgrading. His ministry received the lion’s share of the budget increase. The bulk of the money will go to taking care of the most vulnerable groups in the community.

Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunication Minister Romeo Pantophlet told Parliament his ministry would continue to make St. Maarten a year-round destination and niche market. He plans to finalise e-zone establishment, maritime registry, bring the airport back up to category one and establish a civil aviation registry.

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