Level of political debate SHTA mixer disappoints

POSTED: 08/18/14 5:17 PM

St. Maarten – The political mixer organized by the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA) at the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Hotel began with a disappointment when the leader of the United St. Maarten party did not show up. Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, who was expected to attend, was also absent. Five parties were represented: NA (Rodolphe Samuel), UP (Miguel de Weever), DP (Roy Marlin), SRP (Jacinto Mock) and OSPP (Lenny Priest).

Parties first got the opportunity to explain in broad strokes what they stand for. Then moderator Wendell Moore turned the attention to the first of five questions: taxation. NA, OSPP and DP agree with a shift from direct to indirect taxes. Samuel, Priest and De Weever addressed the need to improve compliance. Priest noted that compliance stood at 30 percent when he was Commissioner of Finance in 1999 and that this number has never changed. Successive governments “have done nothing” he said, adding that the OSPP would make improving compliance a priority. Roy Marlin noted that government revenue has hardly grown over the past four years. The systems at the Chamber of Commerce and the tax office need to be cleaned up to get a more accurate impression of compliance, he said. Jacinto Mock sees possibilities for increasing revenue through higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

Samuel repeated his party’s promise to abolish the profit tax. “If we raise taxes, the costs for consumers will go up,” he said.

Participants agreed on the need to establish the St. Maarten Tourism Authority, though Samuel noted that this project has been in the works for 20 years. “We need the STA, run by professionals who know what they are doing.”
Priest and Marlin stressed the need to work together with the French side, and Marlin added that the STA should operate independently from the government. De Weever noted that the STA is necessary to cut bureaucracy.
Priest said that a dividend policy must be put in place and that infrastructure projects should be done by the government, not by government-owned companies.
Marlin accused the boards of some of the government-owned companies of dereliction of duty.
Marlin also wants to bring all government-owned companies under one minister, but De Weever opposes this idea.
Samuel fumed at the fact that government-owned companies refuse to open their books to government, “as if they belong to certain individuals.”
Priest suggested that departments that will not move into the new government administration building, should move into the current building on Clem Labega Square.
He also said that the OSPP would slash salaries for Members of Parliament and ministers by 20 to 25 percent.
On the issue of labor, Lenny Priest noted that businesses have contributed to the rise of crime, by abusing short term labor contracts. This system makes it impossible for people to get loans. “How can you drive a Lexus while employees are unable to buy a car for $2,500?”
Samuel also opposes the short term labor contract abuse. “A happy employee is a productive employee,” he said.
De Weever wants to limit short term contracts to businesses of a seasonal character.
In general the debate did not reach an impressive level. When push came to shove, participants reverted to bashing each others’ parties over things they did or did not do while they were part of the government.
Lenny Priest came across as an eloquent speaker, while Jacinto Mock disappointed because he seemed to be reading prepared statements as his answers to the questions from moderator Wendell Moore.

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