Finance Minister Perry Geerlings (centre) listening to MPs on Tuesday.
PHILIPSBURG--Members of Parliament (MPs) posed a number of questions on the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT to Finance Minister Perry Geerlings during a meeting held Tuesday to discuss the recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticism of CFT and its intent to recommend an instruction for Curaçao.
The IMF had indicated that austerity measures imposed by the CFT are counterproductive and warned in a report on June 10, 2019, that the advice for imposition of conditions in Curaçao would cause major damage to the economy and put the goal of restoring public finances further out of reach.
United Democrats (UD) MP Jules James said the meeting was not requested to “beat up” on the CFT. He asked the minister how many years has St. Maarten produced a balanced budget since October 10, 2010; and since this date, how many times has the country received an instruction to bring its financial management in order as a result of CFT’s feedback?
James also asked the minister to summarize the content of these instructions and queried what deficits the country has had since October 10, 2010, amongst other questions.
UD MP Sidhart “Cookie” Bijlani asked Geerlings how far St. Maarten has reached and what is the progress of the round table conference hosted by former Finance Minister Michael Ferrier in 2018 with the government of the Netherlands, World Bank, and CFT.
He said also that IMF had indicated that St. Maarten will have a growth of its Gross Domestic Product GDP that is slightly positive this year and asked what a medium-term fiscal framework is and how this works for St. Maarten. He also asked the minister to provide the current unemployment rate for the country.
UD MP Sarah Wescot-Williams requested an update on “the famous instruction” of 2015 and what, if any, progress has been made. She also asked if there were any other agreements with the CFT regarding the finances of the country and if Parliament can be provided with an update of these agreements and where they stand today. Additionally, she asked for an explanation of the instruction the country has received and where St. Maarten stands with these today.
United St. Maarten (US) Party MP Rolando Brison said MPs have been expressing concerns about the far-reaching ways in which the CFT can issue recommendations to St. Maarten and the negative impact this can have on the country. He said, however, that it was interesting to see how when an organisation such as the IMF made similar statements how much attention it received. He also posed a number of questions to the minister.
National Alliance (NA) MP Christophe Emmanuel alluded to comments made by Wescot-Williams in an article published in June calling for an evaluation of CFT as IMF weighs in on its structure. Emmanuel asked the minister whether he thinks that the structure of CFT should be changed, and if yes, what type of structure it should be changed to and if not, why should it not be changed.
US Party MP Frans Richardson said without the CFT, St. Maarten would have been able to borrow and rebuild at a much faster pace than the current rebuilding process. “Yes, we need help and support, but the decision taking should be ours on how we intend to move forward,” Richardson noted.
He said CFT seemed to have been silent in the past two years as not much is being heard from them, instead the voice of the World Bank is being heard. Richardson asked the minister who evaluates CFT and whether any evaluation has been conducted on the body.
UD MP Franklin Meyers said St. Maarten accepted many things when it negotiated its new constitutional status. The majority of the debt of the former Netherlands Antilles was incurred by Curaçao, which operated as the Central Government at the time and had the ability to borrow. Curaçao accumulated most of the debt in the Netherlands Antilles days, but then territories such as St. Maarten were equally responsible for this debt. If there had been separate budgets based on what St. Maarten and the other territories consumed, St. Maarten would have been able to take care of itself fiscally.
“That was not negotiated when we became a country. These things we accepted. The CFT and its functioning was accepted as is with all the restrictions that it came with. Then who was responsible? Who negotiated on behalf of St. Maarten and who was responsible for bringing home the CFT and our autonomy?” Meyers asked.
He said the assessment made by the IMF about the CFT that the Committee has jeopardized its independent position is a “dangerous assessment” that can have far-reaching consequences.
NA MP Egbert Jurendy Doran asked what St. Maarten needs to do to “get rid” of CFT. He asked given that St. Maarten had two balanced budgets under the tenure of former Finance Minister Richard Gibson, whether the CFT should not have been more lenient with St. Maarten, given that Hurricane Irma devastated the country in 2017, affecting the country’s ability to produce its third consecutive balanced budget in that year.
Geerlings promised to provide his answers in three weeks.