MP Claudius “Toontje” Buncamper
PHILIPSBURG--United St. Maarten Party (US Party) Member of Parliament (MP) Claudius “Toontje” Buncamper asked on Monday whether a limit can be placed on the amount of remittances individuals can send abroad from St. Maarten.
He posed the question during a meeting of the Finance Committee of Parliament. Alluding to figures provided by the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS) regarding the outflow and inflow of remittances to the country, Buncamper said that while a lot of money is leaving St. Maarten, little is coming in. This he indicated, can directly impact the foreign exchange reserves.
CBCS President Richard Doornbosch had told The Daily Herald in a recent interview that the foreign exchange reserve had not been impacted by COVID-19 in 2020 because the decline in foreign exchange coming from tourism was balanced by liquidity support the country received from the Netherlands.
Buncamper said sending US dollars abroad can affect the country’s foreign exchange reserves under the current circumstances. “When you go and send money abroad, you are not sending Netherland Antillean guilders abroad, you are sending US dollars or something else abroad, which means you are directly slamming into the reserves that the Central Bank has at the end of the day,” Buncamper said during the meeting.
“I understand that everyone has a right to send their money abroad, but during a pandemic where the Central Bank already stopped banks from allowing people to do certain things when it comes to their mortgages … would it be legal to set a maximum [amount – Ed.] a person can send out per month abroad?”
He hinted that there can be exceptions, if the funds being sent are to support a child’s further education or for medical purposes and this can be proven. However, “people just send money home for their families. The money is leaving the country and at this point in time, the country needs the foreign exchange. Is there anything the Central Bank can do to limit that?” he asked.
He tied outbound remittances to liquidity support the country receives, noting that as soon as St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP) funds are paid out, the lines at money transfer agencies grow. He said this means that SSRP funds are “leaving the country.”
“We have to be honest with ourselves. This should not be allowed just like that. It’s a loan the country took and a loan the country has to pay back and we should be able to set some rules and regulations to that loan. While everyone needs to get help, it shouldn’t be so that we are sending the help off the island. That is going too far, in my opinion.”
Party for Progress (PFP) MP Melissa Gumbs in her questioning commented that she does not have an issue with persons sending money abroad, as persons have a right to send their money where they want to. She said St. Maarten had been built heavily on persons who had been living elsewhere and sending their money back to St. Maarten.
Figures provided by Doornbosch to this newspaper show that some 273 million Netherlands Antillean guilders (NAf.) in remittances flowed out of St. Maarten from money transfer agencies over the past six years from 2015 to 2020, while NAf. 51 million in inflow was recorded from 2015 to 2019.
The figures do not reflect international bank transfers. The figures show dips in the amount of remittances in the period after Hurricane Irma, as well as during 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the figures, NAf. 59 million in remittances flowed out of St. Maarten in 2015; NAf. 74 million in 2016; NAf. 59 million in 2017; NAf. 22 million in 2018; NAf. 32 million in 2019; and NAf. 27 million flowed out of the country last year. The lowest outflow was recorded the year after Hurricane Irma.
Doornbosch said that, when looked at in the perspective of St. Maarten’s gross domestic product (GDP), the remittances represent approximately two per cent of GDP, which he said is a substantial amount of money. In the meantime, figures show the inflow of remittances via money transfer companies stood at NAf. 14 million in 2015, NAf. 19 million in 2016, NAf. 13 million in 2017, NAf. 1 million in 2018 and NAf. 4 million in 2019.