PHILIPSBURG--After reviewing an advice rendered on the proposed Tourist Health Levy drafted by Member of Parliament (MP) Rolando Brison, Party for Progress (PFP) MPs Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson have joined the Advisory Council in strongly opposing the continuation of the legislative procedure for the realisation of the initiative national ordinance.
The faction issued the statement after reports in The Daily Herald that Brison had been “invited” by the Parliament of Curaçao to discuss the law.
The Health Levy seeks to charge arriving tourists a US $30 premium, with half of that amount being made available for social and health insurances SZV to use in any manner it sees fit. In the 12-page advice, which was issued on January 25, 2022, the council urged MP Brison not to take the draft law any further in the legislative process.
“The council essentially wants the MP to stop the legislative procedure for the draft law,” Peterson explained, affirming that “This is one of the harshest conclusions that the council can issue.”
In general, the council does not want to shoot down an initiative law, Peterson said. “Instead, the advice is normally meant to help the lawmaker improve the draft by suggesting areas where it could be strengthened. However, their very clear-cut conclusion essentially declares that the initiative law is so flawed that the legislative process should be discontinued.”
The council found the draft law to be completely inadequate in many important ways, specifically questioning whether the country had a legal basis to stand as a commercial insurance company, or if SZV could even provide insurance coverage for such low premiums.
“Without this key piece of the financial puzzle, it is very likely that this supposed revenue-generating measure will actually cost us in the long run,” MP Gumbs pointed out.
“It is a charming idea, thinking about the streams of money that would flow into the coffers of SZV. But the MP forgets about the aspect of the necessary bills deriving from the responsibilities and obligations of SZV as an insurance company. When a tourist gets sick, SZV would then need to provide care, and as it stands neither the MP nor SZV has indicated whether this is possible.”
PFP is not the only group that is opposed to the draft Health Levy. In response to circulating media reports, the airport operating company PJIAE wrote a letter to the Advisory Council on January 21, 2022. PJIAE objected to the Health Levy on behalf of the aviation industry, arguing that an additional tourist tax is likely to have a negative impact on passenger numbers.
“It gives the impression that as we are rebuilding our airport, there is damage being caused to it, in advance,” MP Gumbs said. She recalls that the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA’s) own position on tourism taxes is that it “strongly opposes any form of tax or fee where the resulting revenue is not reinvested in the aviation industry and is merely meant to increase general government revenues.”
“While SZV is not ‘government’ per se, it is also not part of our local aviation industry. Are we willing to tempt a fall-out with IATA and, thus, all major airlines, over this?” Gumbs asked.
At this point in the legislative process of a national ordinance for St. Maarten, there is no logic behind presenting it to the Parliament of another country within the Kingdom, Peterson concluded. “It is blatantly obvious that this is all for personal promotion, because in reality it makes no sense, as the Parliament of St. Maarten has not even discussed the law.”
Peterson wonders whether MP Brison believes that, if presented, this law will be passed. “If so, that shows complete disregard for the actual legislative process, as well as for all other members of Parliament, especially those who actually consider the advices rendered from our High Councils of State.”
Peterson urged all MPs to consider these developments carefully, “because if we take our Advisory Council seriously, this law should not see the light of day on the floor of Parliament.”