Ottley: food voucher programme slated to continue until July

Ottley: food voucher programme  slated to continue until July

PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor VSA Omar Ottley says the food voucher programme is slated to continue until July, with a possibility of extension for another three months.

  This statement was made during the Committee of Public Health, Social Development and Labor of Parliament CVSA meeting on Friday, May 14.

  United Democrats party Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot-Williams requested for the minister to provide information regarding the continuation of the food voucher programme. The MP noted that there are many persons who continue to rely on the programme.

  United Peoples (UP) Party MP Rolando Brison also proposed that the minister provide a “general” update on the programme.

  In his address, Ottley assured that the food voucher programme is a priority of the ministry and that he knows not only the urgency, but also the importance of the programme for many persons.

  The minister said that the advice for the food voucher programme currently lies with the Ministry of Finance. He cited a budgetary issue, as the food programme was not included in the 2021 budget. “It is known that if something is not in the budget it will not be signed off,” he added.

  He said the budget has been received from the St. Maarten Council of Advice, the amendment to the budget was done, and the provisions for the food voucher programme are now included in the budget. “So, once we handle the 2021 budget then the programme can therefore continue, the advice is completed and ready for signing to be taken to the CoM [Council of Ministers – Ed.],” he continued.

  United St. Maarten Party (US Party) MP Claudius Buncamper on hearing this questioned when the 2021 budget will come to Parliament. The MP said he did not wish to “knock down” the minister as he knows it was not his fault, “but the advice you were given to say that was wrong,” he told the minister.

  The MP used the 2020 budget as an example, where he said the budget included payments of eight months for the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP), while originally it only had four months in the original plan. “So, if that was possible there why is it not possible today?” he questioned.

  The MP cautioned that it is not the right thing to do, telling persons to wait until the budget is approved to get help with food vouchers. “People are hungry, the last thing we need is social unrest, because people do not know where their next meal is coming from…an answer like that creates this problem,” he continued.

  In his response to the MP, Ottley said that his provided update on the food programme was based on his limitations to speak on matters not officially decided upon as of yet.

  MP Brison applauded the minister in his handling of the questions regarding the food voucher programme. He said the minister did so in a “very careful manner”.

  “We are talking about the national budget of the country, which is a national ordinance, which has some serious legislative consequences if a minister comes to the floor of Parliament and makes commitments that are actually not budgeted for, or a line item within the current or past budget,” stated Brison.

  The MP further quoted Article nine of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), “A minister shall not disclose to the council of ministers, to Parliament or in public any intention relating to a budget still to be drawn up and shall not make proposals, pledges or other statements in that regard or which such consequences before the minister has delivered the opinion on this regarding the national budget.”

  Brison said he understands the importance and urgency of the food voucher programme, but stated seeing that the programme is in place until July, that would allow sufficient time to “deal with it properly”.

  The MP reiterated that he commends the minister’s approach of responsibly ensuring that there are budgetary items in place.

  In response to MP Brison’s statement that the programme is slated to continue until July, Ottley disclosed that State Secretary Knops agreed to extend subsidy for the food voucher programme for a period of two months, hence the July dated mentioned.

  He said being that it is a subsidy, the programme needs to be reflected in the 2021 budget. “After the two months, we have [the] possibility of an extension for three months,” he added. “Plans [are] to have this advice in CoM by next week. Once the bilateral agreement is approved, the ministry can carry out the food voucher programme. It needed to be reflected in the budget,” said Ottley.

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