A motion submitted by Parliament President Sarah Wescot-Williams of United Democrats (UD) Tuesday evening appeared to be off the table when her coalition party colleague Chanel Brownbill voted against it, but Frans Richardson of opposition United St. Maarten Party (US Party) surprisingly gave his support. It’s a good thing he did, because this may ultimately help prevent highly undesirable conflict with the Netherlands, which has been providing – among other things – badly needed liquidity support since the devasting passage of record-strength Hurricane Irma in September 2017.
In addition to limiting St. Maarten’s – exceptionally allowed – budget deficit, Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops placed specific conditions such as pension reforms, upward adjustments to the justice budget and a pay cut for Members of Parliament (MPs) like the Ministers had already taken. However, as Wescot-Williams pointed out, the salaries are anchored in law that even requires a two-thirds legislative majority to change.
Her adopted motion instead calls for removing the NAf. 500 monthly allowance elected representatives and public administrators get on top of their salary. As of next year, the vacation allowances and other fringe benefits can be eliminated for political office-holders and others in the higher income brackets, while collection of the 10 per cent own contribution in the health insurance of MPs and cabinet members must start right away.
She also called for restricting government delegations going abroad to two persons and reducing government travel by 10 per cent across the board. Parliament’s own travel budget, which was slashed from NAf. 873,950 last year to NAf. 378,143 in 2019, should be set at NAf. 500,000 in 2020. All this would save an annual NAf. 300,000 in her calculations.
The motion is clearly an attempt to show goodwill in terms of lowering cost without giving in to what Wescot-Williams called the “condescending attitude” of The Hague towards Philipsburg in this matter. She said the way pressure had been applied on government to circumvent parliamentary oversight was unacceptable.
Despite these strong words, the motion may be viewed as an olive branch towards the Netherlands to get past the emotions surrounding this issue and continue working on the country’s all-important recovery. The urgent need to shore up the national treasury and execute more projects from the Dutch-sponsored Trust Fund managed by the World Bank, including rebuilding the airport and investing in the hospital, is just too great for discord at the expense of the people.