Budget approved after two days of charged discussions

Budget approved after two  days of charged discussions

A scene during the budget debate.

PHILIPSBURG--The 2024 budget for St Maarten was given the green light by Parliament close to midnight Friday after two days of occasionally charged discussions between Members of Parliament (MPs) and Ministers.

The budget was approved by 12 votes in favour and two votes against. MPs Ludmila de Weever (Party for Progress) and Christophe Emmanuel (Nation Opportunity Wealth) voted against the budget. All other MPs that were present voted in favour of the budget. VROMI MP and minister Egbert Doran was not present for the public meeting.


Some ministers listening to an MP during the debate.



MPs during the debate.

Also approved was an amendment by Democratic Party (DP) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams regarding the allocation of NAf. 50,000 from the positive balance on the budget for Fundashon Prevenshon in Curaçao to aid St Maarten with the setting up of an overall health screening programme with a national purposes here in the country. Wescot-Williams’ motion was accepted unanimously.

A motion tabled by United People’s (UP) MP Francisco Lacroes to, amongst other things, urge government to take urgent action to diversify the sources of fuel in St. Maarten particularly by means of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and waste to energy solutions to ultimately lower the cost to consumers, was voted down. The motion was rejected by eight votes against and three votes for. Only the three UP MPs in Parliament voted in favour of the motion.

Unified Resilience St Maarten Movement (URSM) MP Sjamira Roseburg had tabled an amendment regarding the introduction of two pilot programmes – one to tackle youth fights in the country and another for the introduction of a legal help desk. Roseburg later retracted her amendment after receiving answers to questions she had asked about how concerns in these areas would be tackled. She said they would be tackled via the Crime Fund.

A new feature in this year’s public session on the budget, which was introduced for the first time by Wescot-Williams in her capacity as Chairperson of Parliament was the introduction of interruptions, where MPs could have interrupted a speaker with brief remarks or questions without introduction. MPs made full use of this to interrupt speakers with remarks, clarifications, rebuttals or to point out inconsistencies, amongst other things, throughout the debate.

The two-day debate consisted of some amount of back and forth between Ministers and MPs on a range of issues, gentle jabs, funny moments and of some MPs hammering on specific issues. There were also complaints from some MPs about some of their questions not being answered or not being answered thoroughly.

At one point, the Second Vice Chairperson of Parliament Melissa Gumbs, who had some pronounced facial expressions at some points during the meeting, referred to Irion as the outgoing Minister of Finance to which Irion said while he is outgoing, he might actually be in office indefinitely or for a while given an article he read regarding the formation of a new government.

Several references were made about the current situation with the incoming government not yet taking office, with some MPs from the opposition hammering on the issue.

One of the issues that PFP MP Ludmila de Weever repeatedly hammered on was her concerns regarding the long-term rental agreement granted to the underwater museum, which she said was telling swimmers that they needed to pay a fee of US $10 to swim in the vicinity of the museum. De Weever said at the rate that St Maarten is going residents will not be able to swim in the water any more. The PFP MP said no one in a boat will be telling her to pay to swim in her (island’s) ocean noting that “my water, my sea and my sand ain’t for sale.” She had earlier said that government can start parcelling off parts of the ocean to lease for extra revenue if this was the case.

Amendment for health screening prog.

Wescot-Williams unanimously passed amendment focused on health screening. The DP MP said the subject of preventive care came up several times in the budget, particularly preventive health care. She said awareness on the island has increased significantly, partly due to the efforts of civil society organisations, such as the Positive Foundation, Heart and Stroke Foundation, St Maarten Medical Center (SMMC), American University of the Caribbean (AUC) School of Medicine, Collective Preventive Services (CPS) and the Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour VSA amongst others. “Women and men are increasingly taking up the opportunity to get screened for some of the most common ailments, such as cancers and heart disease.”

In her amendment-Wescot-Williams said with the level of screening programmes as they are today, she believed that the time has come for one overall screening programme with national purposes to be the next step given the various development goals in healthcare.

The MP said, research she has conducted within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, where screening is mandatory in some parts of the Kingdom, contact was made with Fundashon Prevenshon in Curaçao - the agency that coordinates medical screenings on that island. This foundation, established since 2008, subsidized by the government and other private individuals, manages and coordinates screening for breast cancer, colon cancer and cervical cancer.

The Director of that foundation has agreed to assist St. Maarten in setting up such a screening programme in St. Maarten, tailored to St. Maarten. The MP said taking the first steps entails a stakeholders meeting in St. Maarten, assisted by a team from Fundashon Prevenshon.

She pointed out that the budget item 43489.7250 has various components regarding health awareness, etc., and in Wescot-Williams’ opinion it would be best to allow a shift to a description of the initial costs of the screening programme for St. Maarten. Wescot-Williams has, however, chosen to charge the small amount required for the first meeting(s) to the positive balance of the budget. She said costs provided for in this first phase concern travel costs for participants from Curaçao, room rental and vision development and she said a cost of NAf. 50,000.00 seems sufficient for this initiative.

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