PHILIPSBURG--Housing the first parliament of Country St. Maarten comes at a hefty price tag of US $96,100 per month for taxpayers. This will create an unnecessary burden on the people at a time when the economy is still lagging and the budget deficit is said to be almost NAf. 100 million, according to the opposition Democratic Party (DP). The building will be rented for five to eight years.
The rental of the former Caribbean Palm building was approved by the Island Council by a seven to three vote margin in the wee hours of Tuesday morning when members of the National Alliance (NA)/Heyliger coalition voted for the rental of the building and the start of internal works to create partitions and offices for the 15 members of Parliament who will be sworn in on October 10.
DP members Sarah Wescot-Williams, Roy Marlin and Leroy de Weever voted against the proposal to rent the building next to the Courthouse, owned by the Williams family. DP member Maria Buncamper-Molanus was not present for the vote.
Three floors of the four-storey building will be rented by government; the ground floor is already occupied by two stores, Facilities Management Commissioner William Marlin told the council when he presented the rental agreement Tuesday morning. The building would provide adequate housing for the "highest legislative body" on the island, he said.
The rental price is broken down into two parts: US $60,000 for the rental of the space and US $36,100 to compensate the owners for investments made to prepare the building. The monthly rent is based on square footage and the initial investment that has to be made by the owners to make the building suitable for the parliament, with at least four faction offices, meeting rooms, and separate offices for each of the 15 parliamentarians.
The most urgent parts and offices in the building will be ready in time for October 10 and the rest in January.
Government intends to reserve 30 parking spaces on Clem Labega Square for the parliamentarians, secretariat, other staff and visitors.
DP Island Councilman Roy Marlin called for an investigation to see how the Finance Department had approved the rental amount. He said that based on his experience, he didn't think this expenditure should be approved, given that government was struggling with a mounting budget deficit. He called on Chairman of the Executive Council First Acting Lt. Governor Reynold Groeneveldt to review the procedure that had been used to select the building and approve the rent.
De Weever questioned whether some deal was being cooked up by the NA-Heyliger government with the owners, who also own property at the "Foot of Town" close to the Down Street jetty, and whether someone in government would be looking to make a deal. He urged government to "make haste slowly" by shopping around for a better deal.
Commissioner Marlin refuted De Weever's claims, saying he did not know about and was not involved in anything of the sort.
DP Councilwoman Sarah Wescot-Williams questioned the urgency of approving the rental contract at this time and asked why, in her opinion, government had "slipped in" the approval of the rental contract as an agenda point after a list of some 15 organic laws. Those laws were debated and approved by the council.
The final agenda point of the Island Council meeting that started on Monday afternoon and ended about 3:10am Tuesday was the approval of the Social Charter for the civil servants. With the Island Council's unanimous approval, government can now make offers for places in the civil service apparatus of Country St. Maarten to the managers/heads and staff of the Central Government departments that have offices here.