Honourable Minister of Finance Hiro Shigemoto says he has taken note of the comments made by former Commissioner of Finance Xavier Blackman who was part of the National Alliance (NA)-led administration that was in government for a period of 15-months.
"The responsible thing would have been for the former Commissioner of Finance to have presented the 2011 budget to the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT with the ‘proposals’ that he referred to in a Monday newspaper article.
"He should have also informed the community how much money a five percent charge on casino cash-outs and a condo fee would have brought into the coffers of the Government and how much the budget deficit would have been brought down or would it have balanced the budget? This is what the people of Sint Maarten are interested in knowing. Again, no clear answers but just questions.
"We can all recall that the 2011 budget had a deficit of approximately Naf.130 million. The first draft of the NA budget was submitted on October 7, 2010 to the CFT and the CFT came back with their advice that there was a deficit of Naf.130 million. If the NA had measures that would have balanced the budget, why was there a deficit of Naf.130 million? Why didn’t they do the responsible thing and present the proposal to the CFT of a balanced budget prior to leaving office, because that would have been the legacy of the NA and the responsible Commissioner of Finance.
"If the aforementioned was done, then country Sint Maarten would have started off with a clean slate and we wouldn’t be in the current situation that we find ourselves," Minister of Finance Hiro Shigemoto pointed out.
The Minister adds, "If the Commissioner and the NA-led Government had everything in order we wouldn’t be in the current situation that we are currently facing as a country. The responsible thing would have been to negotiate with the Dutch in the final months for a transition period, and we must remember the NA had 15-months to do so, but that was not done. Everything was done in a rush and today we have the NA to thank for that. By not doing this, the NA has opened up avenues for Dutch Government intervention."
The Minister pointed out that the UP/DP coalition has taken steps to develop a new tax system for the country. "And as the former Commissioner of Finance Xavier Blackman, pointed out, you can’t overhaul the whole tax system in a year, but you can start with baby steps. Then, we come back to the same question, why didn’t the Commissioner present a 2011 balanced budget to the CFT with the NA tax measures that had been drafted?
"The measures which were brought forward by the NA Commissioner of Finance were not all implementable or required proper research before they could be executed. For example, 15-months were sufficient time to have a Gaming Board established similar to the one in Curacao. Why didn’t the NA-led Government do so? This would have made it possible to implement the casino cash-out measure," Minister Shigemoto explained on Monday.
"There is one thing the former Commissioner of Finance X. Blackman and I can agree on. In his interview he says, ‘Sint Maarten has to do its homework and its projections and take decisions that might not be popular and are needed now because they were never taken in the past.’ Correct, we have taken the unpopular decisions of increasing the Turn over Tax because the NA-led government left a budget deficit of approximately Naf.130 million for the UP/DP coalition to deal with.
"It is a challenge, but we shall overcome and the benefits will be for the community. It will take some time and won’t be done in six months as Blackman pointed out as well. Blackman would like to place blame on one particular party, however, the NA was part of the former Federal Government of the Netherlands Antilles for eight years during the journey for country status, and if the homework was properly done then at the Federal level during those crucial and critical eight years leading up to country status, our country and the people today would not be in the predicament that it finds itself.
"Secondly, Blackman was Head of Finance of the Saba Government Finance Department. Blackman would like to give the impression that Sint Maarten is the only island under financial supervision; however Saba is also under the same supervision by the CFT. If Blackman did such a great job while working in Saba as Head of Finance for a number of years where financial reports had to be up to date and in order, why would Saba also fall under financial supervision of the CFT? How many years backlog in financial statements did the Saba Finance Department have when he left as Head of that department and who was responsible for cleaning them up?
"Thirdly, when we talk about a vote of no confidence, we must go back to April 24, 2010 when the entire 11-member Island Council of the Island Territory of Sint Maarten, led by the NA Government which had the majority, unanimously accepted a vote of no confidence against Commissioner of Finance Xavier Blackman. The Democratic Party which was in opposition at the time presented the motion of no confidence. Again, why would the NA go along with such a motion against one of its Commissioners?" Hon. Minister of Finance Hiro Shigemoto concluded.