MP Wescot Seeking Information & more communication from St Maarten

MP Wescot is seeking information and more communication from Government

“The government of St. Maarten might as well decide to have less press briefings or even none at all”, is the view of Member of Parliament (MP) Sarah Wescot after a critical analysis of government’s current modus operandi, as she also addresses government’s media policy, the MP said in a press statement on Monday.

“I say this because of the confusing and mixed signals that we are getting every week and at the same time members of parliament, many of us in any case, continue to ask for meetings and seek to obtain information from the government, but to no avail.”

MP Wescot gives as an example of mixed signals and confusion that the government is sowing, the issue of the three infamous ordinances that were passed as part of the conditions set by the kingdom council of ministers, following the second transfer of liquidity support that St. Maarten received in 2020.

The three laws being the reduction in the labor benefits of civil servants and like personnel (persons working for government and semi government institutions and subsidized institutions etc.), the one regarding the cut in the salaries of ministers and members of parliament to the amount of 25% of their salaries/benefits, and thirdly the so-called standardization of top incomes, in other words incomes of top personnel, management etc. of government owned companies. These would be tied to the salary received by the Prime Minister, a so-called Prime Minister norm and cannot exceed a certain amount above the salary of the Prime Minister, the MP explained.

“What we are now hearing after months of being told that the current state secretary was amenable to the idea of undoing the 12 1/2% cut, is that State Secretary van Huffelen has attached additional conditions, if the government wishes to revoke the “salary cuts”.

“It should be noted that this 12 1/2% cut in the case of civil servants is not salary related, it has to do with withholding vacation allowance, reducing vacation days, cutting overtime, and capping promotions.”

MP Wescot elucidated that while the government has been promoting the idea that the state secretary was very receptive to talk about undoing this ordinance, it needs to be made clear that this ordinance and the other two can be undone by a national decree, in other words, can be revoked by a decision of the government of St. Maarten. “It doesn’t have to come back to Parliament or be changed by another ordinance.”

“Now government, via the Prime Minister is telling us that in order to undo/cancel the 12 1/2% which is law, that there are eight conditions that have been attached to this, however we of the parliament and the population at large can’t get to know what five of the eight conditions are, because only three have been made public so far.”

“The State Secretary allegedly writes a letter to the Prime Minister indicating 8 conditions. What is wrong with outlining what those conditions are; if they have already been put on paper as conditions, why can’t the parliament and the population at large be told what these conditions are?” the MP is asking.

“No, instead the government says they can’t divulge the five others, only the three such as financing it ourselves in first instance, maintaining the cut in the salaries of ministers and members of parliament, and thirdly to adapt the law regarding the top incomes; those are the three conditions that the Prime Minister has divulged as being part of the eight”, the MP exclaimed, obviously frustrated with the government’s attitude.

What the other five are we don’t know, because the government is looking for time to discuss them firstly with the state secretary.

It can be recalled that the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten, when these conditions were first put in place, especially the one cutting the salaries with 12 1/2%, said that move and that decision would lead to further impoverishment on St. Maarten! Now we’re hearing that “we have to negotiate and there might be a delay because of these extra conditions that are being imposed”.

On the other hand, adding to the confusion, the minister of finance is having negotiations with the unions regarding paying out vacation allowance for the period June 2020 through May 2021 in exchange for a reduction in vacation days, is what I have learned from especially social media because again the government sees no merit in briefing parliament as to where this entire matter is going and what the issues are.

The Minister of Finance is now negotiating an exchange and is promising to pay out vacation allowance in June 2022 for the period just mentioned (June 2020 through May 2021) and in exchange thereof, the workers would have to accept a reduction in vacation days.

My question is when I read this and assuming that the information is correct: “is the government going to annul the law that blocks the payment of vacation allowance and if so, when?”

Parliament empowered the government to annul this law by decision of the government, reasoning that the government could quickly reinstate the vacation allowance etc. The law leaves no opening for the government to change the makeup of the cuts and the question begs “what about the other workers that fall under the workings of the law (government companies, foundations etc.)?”

MP Wescot: “I feel that the minister and the government -for whatever their reasons at this time- are jumping at everything, here, there and elsewhere, but in essence taking the people of St. Maarten, especially the persons who have been told ‘now you are going to get your vacation allowance’ for a ride, because the law that governs this 12 1/2% cut regulates the cut for everybody falling under the government operation, semi government operations, as well as subsidized entities. So, what are those entities now supposed to do?

“I guess we’re not going to be hearing answers anytime soon and the government is going to play this game and when things do not work out, put the blame in the lap of the Dutch/kingdom government.”

There is no one who can question the ministers and get straight answers, because if a member of the media does it, they are put on notice.

And on that topic, it begs the question, why is it that parliament receives correspondence from the Prime Minister and a representative of the media on St. Maarten that the two parties are going to sit together and work things out after the botched media policy that the government had issued, but still warnings, which are mentioned in the media policy are issued to a journalist? Is the policy in effect or not?

“Is the government going to be having discussions with the media, yes, or no?”, the MP queries.

Two other fiascos are the budget 2022 and the fuel cost reduction. And to add insult to injury, while we have no view on a timeline of the reduction for the consumer, the Minister of ECYS announces a 1 cent charge on fuel that will go towards sports. Just like they did with Minister Lawrence’s proposal to reduce the fuel cost for the consumer, the other ministers approved this, but none can explain how this will work in practice and will it be a reduction big enough to then add 1 cent?

The government has none but themselves to blame for the general cynicism,
due to their poor and one-sided communication, the MP said in conclusion.

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