MP Sarah Wescot-Williams.
PHILIPSBURG--“Full of holes” and “dressed up” to look balanced were some of the descriptions used by United Democrats (UD) Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot-Williams to describe the 2023 budget, which was passed by a majority in Parliament on Friday, March 24.
“It is beyond me that some persons were actually led to believe that this budget is a workable budget. Maybe on paper, but legally and practically, the budget was but a dressed-up way of making sure it was balanced and adopted by March 31, 2023,” Wescot-Williams said in a press statement issued on Monday.
“The defense by some that this budget was vetted by the Council of Advice and the CFT [Committee for Financial Supervision – Ed.] is yet another smoke screen as these entities have their own responsibilities and roles in the budgetary and legislation processes. Parliament’s role is a distinct one of oversight and supervision. And a budget is one of the few instances that a government can be grilled by parliament on all its stated intentions and its financial management,” the MP said.
“CFT’s directive that the budget must be balanced has been achieved. The question is how? And as with the government’s claim to be the longest serving one, the question is also at what cost? Will we get an amended budget sometime in June, or will the government repeat the trickery of the budget 2022, amended only in November of the same year?” the MP questioned.
She said this is against all regulations and diminishes the parliamentary oversight to a toothless tiger.
“If as the government purports, expectations are that income will increase in the coming months and thus the necessary funds can be reinstated in the budget, why could that not arguably be put in the budget now, as was done with some items, such as Airbnb and the visitor’s/health tax? That is what a budget is all about, projections and expectations. You cannot knowingly keep your budget lower than contractual obligations, in the hope that at some point, you can supplement these items,” she contended.
On one hand, the MP said government is holding on to policies that are obviously outdated and need to be revisited urgently, while on the other hand, based on the country package, there are a plethora of studies and reports with which nothing is being done.
The Nature Ordinance, the National Development Vision, the Roadmap to Economic Recovery for St. Maarten, all require public-private partnerships and consultations, which the MP said are terms that government uses only when convenient.
“Government for four days was able to dodge matters such as GEBE, justice personnel, crime fund, consultant budgets, tax reform, electoral reform, district cleaning, pension indexation, education institutions, tendering procedures, and many more.
“I remain amazed at the fact that a government, whose members were the biggest obstructionists to the Trust Fund, today brag and pose incessantly regarding projects that are now rolling out or coming on line by the same Trust Fund. The hospital miraculously just started to move; Belvedere never had more pictures taken of its home repairs by a government that vehemently opposed the Trust Fund. And lest we forget, the airport would have been much further, were it not for this government’s shenanigans to begin with.
“Smoke screens and lack of cohesion between government and its parliamentary support were palpable, even though the biggest cheerleaders tried their utmost to spin and deflect. Many cardinal points were lost in the ruse surrounding the budget debate. For the record, I repeat that the government rushed the handling of the budget to comply with the deadline given by the CFT. Not complying with such, could have led to an instruction by the Kingdom Council of Ministers. The budget, however, cannot be ratified by March 31, because the six-week period needs to be observed, but I guess with Parliament’s approval, the government at least got some reprieve.”
After ratification, she said CFT still needs to ascertain that the budget remained in accordance with the norms as stipulated in the financial supervision law.
“This is highly questionable, given the last amendment made to the budget by a majority in Parliament,” she said.
She said also that an amendment from the UP faction adds NAf. 5 million to the capital budget, without a source of capital income thereby throwing the 2023 capital account out of balance and without coverage for the approximately NAf. 5 million added in “the hastily put together amendment.”