Spies closes door on debt relief paymentsPOSTED: 09/5/12 10:48 AM
St. Maarten – Outgoing Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Minister Liesbeth spies confirmed in a letter to the Dutch parliament what has long been obvious: St. Maarten has forfeited its rights to unclaimed debt relief funds.
Spies referred in her letter to the half-year report from financial supervisor Cft. “The Cft states that St. Maarten is still of the opinion that payment arrears can be restructured. For the record I confirm hereby what I have already discussed earlier with your Chamber, namely that the window for the restructuring of payment arrears is closed. The transition and the issue of the payment arrears is behind us. The rules of the Kingdom Law financial supervision are now leading.”
That St. Maarten would not be able to get its hands on approximately 80 million guilders in debt relief became apparent from statements to this newspaper by the former (and fired) head of the finance department Bas Roorda in October of last year.
In a document Roorda prepared for his court case against the government to contests his dismissal he described how a row with drs. M.J. Hooi, at the time an audit manager for the government accountant bureau Soab had disastrous consequences for the debt relief program.
Roorda described how a difference of opinion with Hooi led to a “withheld opinion” qualification for 27 accountant statements about outstanding debts. This qualification meant that the accountants declined to guarantee that the debt was genuine. If the Soab had stated instead that it was possible that these debts existed, the Netherlands would have paid them.
Roorda described in his statement that Hooi was charged with issuing accountant statements about the balance of debts St. Maarten had to several creditors. Based on these statements, the Netherlands would pay the debts.
There was however a problem, Roorda wrote. “Due to the inadequate administration the balances started to show deviations. This was caused by the fact that the Receiver, who remarkably enough also makes payments, never gives specifications of what exactly is being paid. If you keep this up for years, you will automatically get differences.”
According to Roorda, Hooi only wanted to issue statements of approval when the balances of the creditor and the administration of the Island Territory were identical. “He constantly asked the creditor for information and then waited for months for answers that never came.”
When this practice put the debt relief program under time pressure, Roorda contacted Kingdom Relations in The Hague, the party charged with paying the debts. “There I was made aware of the “can” rule. This means that if it can be made plausible that a debt exists, it may be paid. So there was no need for an exact connection between those balances. State Secretary Bijleveld confirmed this in writing.”
The next step Roorda took was to express his dissatisfaction with the Soab and its audit manager Hooi about the delays. He urged the Soab to issue the statements immediately. “Hooi reacted incensed,” Roorda wrote, adding that the audit manager was fired by Soab.
Roorda wrote that the Soab issued 27 accountant statements that all contained a “withholding opinion” conclusion. “Based on these statements, Roorda, wrote, “debt relief could not take place.”
Hiro Shigemoto, at the time Minister of finance, held Roorda accountable for the situation. “I suppose that Minister Shigemoto is of the opinion that there is a connection between the withholding of opinion by the Soab and my reference to the “can” rule,” Roorda countered this allegation. Had Shigemoto addressed the issue, I could have told him that debt relief is possible based on the “can” rule, “because the balances in the inadequate administration have started to show differences throughout the years. That made it impossible to meet the Soab’s requirements.”
Minister Shigemoto attempted in vain to move the ministry to pay the debts, and apparently his successor Roland Tuitt has also put in an effort but Minister Spies has now definitely closed the door on that option.