PHILIPSBURG--Finance Minister Ardwell Irion said on Wednesday that a “bag of money isn’t laying around” for government to make use of in the current coronavirus COVID-19 crisis.
“There isn’t an infinite amount of money. There isn’t a bag of money laying around. There isn’t free money in any open markets. Government is dealing with limited resources, as many countries are dealing with in this pandemic,” he told reporters during the virtual live Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday. “Even with our limited resources, we believe that we have made a conducive stimulus package encompassing most of our population.”
He said that although government does not have a firm commitment from the Netherlands on its request for aid, it is using its liquidity support to help the country by supporting businesses and individual entities. However, he cautioned that “ministers have to show checks and balances. There isn’t free money. The money isn’t coming in free. We have to pay it back.”
He said businesses that can show a reduction in revenue of 80 to 100 per cent will qualify for 80 per cent payroll support, those that can show a reduction in revenue of 50 to 80 per cent will qualify for 70 per cent payroll support, and those that can show a reduction in revenue of 20 to 50 per cent can qualify for 60 per cent payroll support.
To qualify, businesses have to apply on the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP) website
www.ssrp.sx and provide the necessary documentation.
Asked about possible support for businesses on the exempt list that are excluded from payroll support, Irion said persons who visit the website will see that even though there is an exemption list, there is still a possibility to apply for support.
“We believe that all was done fairly with the right checks and balances. There is also an area where you can appeal if you feel that you should be qualifying for payroll support,” Irion said.
In providing additional information, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said the exemption list is a projection for the first month. She said persons who had indicated to her that their establishments deserve to also be on the list because, while they can probably pay their employees for the coming month and perhaps the month after, if the situation remains as it is they will be unable to continue doing so based on the fact that others are not paying their bills, should apply for payroll support, even though they are on the exemption list.
In the meantime, Irion said looking at past decisions, St. Maarten was not prepared for this pandemic in terms of building its infrastructure. “What this pandemic and previous crises such as Hurricane Irma have shown and exposed to us are our vulnerabilities as a society and our ability to handle external shocks like this.”
He alluded to statements made by Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Minister Egbert Doran that while “most of these problems did not start with us, they are ours to own.”
Irion stressed that “even though you will experience inconvenience and there will be discomfort, we are working hard to ensure that the population remains safe and can survive.”
He said discussions have been held with Doran on how to help the country bounce back after its doors have been reopened. Discussions were also had with the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) on the country’s economic recovery.
“We are preparing. Don’t let anyone fool you. There is no free money out there. There is none. And we are doing our best with our limited resources,” Irion said.