PHILIPSBURG--Parliament passed the 2015 budget with an 11-4 vote on Thursday night with just two days to spare before the deadline set by the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT.
The budget had to be established in December 2014. Government asked CFT for more time and was given the deadline of January 31.
Voting for the budget were the 10 Members of Parliament supporting the coalition and former coalition member MP Sarah Wescot-Williams (Democratic Party (DP)). The four National Alliance (NA) Members of Parliament voted against the budget.
Wescot-Williams said her support came from her "having sat in another chair," meaning she had been prime minister when the budget mostly was compiled, and despite having "serious reservations." Voting for the budget was also a way of holding the ministers accountable for its proper execution.
Referred to as a "skeleton budget" by Finance Minister Martin Hassink, the balanced budget stands at NAf. 445 million, some NAf. 19 million off the amount projected by CFT. The budget now will go to Governor Eugene Holiday for his signature.
The growth of the budget by three per cent from NAf. 430 million last year can be credited to the country's economic growth, execution of a tax project/clearing up tax administration backlog, and "swift execution" of tax administration reorganisation.
One budget-neutral amendment was made to the budget by Parliament before it was adopted formally. The amendment cut the allocation for New Works (infrastructure) from NAf. 33,950,000 to NAf. 25,650,000 and moved the subtracted NAf. 8.3 million to Domain Affairs for the completion of the purchase of the Vorst land in Cay Hill.
Nine MPs supporting the coalition voted for the amendment while the four NA parliamentarians and Wescot-Williams voted against it due to objections to the high cost for the land. Coalition partner independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo left the General Assembly Hall during the voting, so was not present when called to vote on the amendment.
The CFT now will review the budget and give its comments on whether it considers it indeed balanced. If the advice is negative, the Gumbs Cabinet will have to amend the budget to fit into the required parameters or face an instruction from the Kingdom Council of Ministers to get its financial house in order.
Two motions with similar content, but some varied wording were tabled in Parliament in the Plenary Session on Thursday. Both motions called for the reallocation of NAf. 1,167,560 from the Educational Behaviour Modification Programme to social, community and youth programmes and foundations.
The fundamental difference between the two motions was that the one from MP Silveria Jacobs (NA) listed specific foundations to which the reallocated money should go and the one presented by MP Theo Heyliger (United People's (UP) party) highlighted broad sectors.
After some high emotion about how the two motions came to mirror each other in their wording, the Jacobs motion received only six of the 15 votes, two short of the majority needed to pass it.
The Heyliger motion passed with 13 votes. It received support from Jacobs, who said the intent of the motion was the same as hers and the groups that needed to benefit would gain in the long run. MPs Johan Leonard (UP) and Christophe Emmanuel voted against the motion.
Reduced fuel clause
Jacobs presented a second motion calling for government as shareholder's representative "to instruct" utilities company GEBE management to take the steps to reduce the fuel clause on electricity bills immediately for all customers of the country. The motion was passed by Parliament unanimously via individual voting.
Parliament suspended the voting on a motion from independent MP Cornelius de Weever to grant "provisional approval" for the start of medical coverage for the elderly, sole proprietors, vendors, bus and taxi drivers and their families.
The suspension came after six MPs had voted on the motion. Wescot-Williams pointed out the stumbling block when it was her turn to vote on the motion to grant provisional approval specifically for the implementation of Article V of the draft National Ordinance on the saving and management of social security and care.
Based on her queries it was ascertained that the ordinance had not even been handled by the Council of Ministers. This meant Parliament was handling a motion referring to what was technically a non-existent piece of draft legislation. De Weever was aware of the existence of the draft ordinance, as he worked on it in his former post as health minister.