Prime Minister Initiates Steps on Reducing Cost of Living for Whole Community

PM: "Discussions started regarding the controlling of prices on items to reduce the general cost of living for ordinary citizens."

A cost of living increase effects the entire community and citizens are faced with the high cost of living on St. Maarten," commented Prime Minister Wescot-Williams regarding the discussions with regards to the COLA that has been ongoing in the community of St. Maarten for some weeks now.


The Prime Minister explained that, although Government is taking the necessary steps and discussions with the Unions with regards to the payment of the COLA, emphasis is also being placed on addressing the high cost of living for the wider community on St. Maarten. "I have also started the discussion regarding the controlling of prices on items which will seek for a reduction in the general cost of living for ordinary citizens. These measures also include placing more goods as part of the controlled items established by Government, which are items that cannot go beyond prices stipulated by Government. In my opinion this is currently very limited to just a few items and it is my aim to see that this should be broadened out. I started the discussion with the Minister of Economic Affairs and have started the trajectory regarding that specifically, making it more affordable to buy controlled goods. It is also extremely important to get cost reduced on health products specifically, as these sometimes carry a hefty price tag," commented the Prime Minister.

Specifically as it pertains to the COLA and the Civil Service, the Prime Minister has stated that over the years governments have agreed to adjust the methods of the salaries with regards to the cost of living increase. "Over the years there have been different methods as to how the salaries will be adjusted. For example; previously if the cost of living index is established and it is above a certain amount then the civil servants would have been paid a percentage of the cost of living. When the discussions started regarding a changed remuneration package for civil servants certain amounts were not included and this had a negative effect on the total of the base salary for the pension calculation. In the revamping of the system all salary scales were changed and we arrived at a new salary system with new scales and new amounts. In addition to that the whole policy regarding governments and civil servants were changed. Our new salary package focuses on incremental increases on the basis of performance. In addition to the remuneration policy of Government we also have the performance and evaluation management which is a tool as to where all civil servants are evaluated and brings with it the possibility of getting an increase or in the case of exceptional performance a bonus.

"In the case of the COLA it is mentioned that Government will look at what the cost of living increase was the year before and determine if there is the financial room to increase the salaries as per that index. Government looks at the increase and given what that is we look at the feasibility as it pertains to the salaries. The point that Government has been making is that this is an untenable situation. We cannot index salaries yearly based on the cost of living. Based on our limited budgetary ceiling we will have an awkward situation with regards to the hiring of personnel necessary for the proper functioning of Government. You cannot bring personnel cost up to a certain level which would mean that we will have to send certain personnel home," stressed the PM.

The Prime Minister also disclosed that a representative of the Council of Ministers met with the Unions and discussed the way forward considering the 2013 Budget. "In all of the discussions with regards to the budget we were able to safeguard the original Budget with regards to some payments. 50% of the Cost of Living Adjustments of 2011 will be paid out and we hope that once the budget has passed the payout can take place," commented the PM.