Published On: Wed, Jan 25th, 2017

SHTA severely criticizes functioning of Parliament

GREAT BAY – The St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association has severely criticized the functioning of Parliament. In a newsletter it published on its website on Sunday, the SHTA says that Parliament “is not doing one of its most important tasks:” making the government give account for the way it spends tax revenue.

The SHTA bases its opinion on the compliance audit of the government’s 2015 financial statement. “The government has once again failed to present a solid and auditable financial statement,” the Audit Chamber writes in its report, and the SHTA has picked up on it.

“The last time they gave an account was years ago – something all businesses are required to do annually.”

The government needs more money all the time but it does not tell us what they have actually spent it on, the SHTA notes. “In the private sector we cannot get away with that. Therefore, the government is holding the private sector to higher standards than they are willing to adhere to themselves.”

The SHTA says that Parliament is the only body that can present taxpayers with the actual financial accounts. “This should be priority number one. There is absolutely no point in talking about budgets is the actual numbers are that far off the mark.

The association asks Parliament to present the actual financial statement to the public from 10-10-10 up to the present.

“What is really surprising is the lack of public outrage when it comes to public financial accountability,” the SHTA states. “We would not accept this from anyone on a personal level, yet collectively we accept it from our elected officials.”

The SHTA asks on behalf of its members to make the information public. “We should not have to beg to see how our tax dollars are spent; there is more than enough credit and blame to go around, because at this point every party has seen both sides of the aisle.”

The SHTA offers nine recommendations that it also offered after the 2013 budget. The highlights are a cap on salaries and benefit expenditures, addressing the lack of productivity in the public sector, an increase in the employee share of medical insurance for civil servants, restoration of the tourism budget, reducing taxes, postponing the Gebe concession and reducing rates and implementing a comprehensive growth strategy.

Occupying the new government building is also one of the recommendations and the SHTA stands by it today: “We know you are thinking that at least they did occupy the new building. But don’t forget that it has been sold, so in fact it is also being rented. It likely means that overall rent expenses are up. None of the other important points to the private sector have been adequately addressed; we know that for a fact. Attempts were made but they haven’t produced any tangible results.”

The SHTA ends its statement with a somber conclusion: “So here we are at the start of 2017 and there is no plan for moving country St. Maarten forward. Four months after the election and we are still waiting for a minister of tourism, economic affairs, transport and telecommunication to be sworn in.”