Perry Geerlings

 ~ ‘Know your facts & figures before you point fingers’ ~

 PHILIPSBURG--Finance Minister Perry Geerlings denied on Monday that the recent letter of intent (LOI) signed with Social and Health Insurances SZV regarding the repayment of a government debt owed to SZV had been a publicity stunt, as was suggested by St. Maarten Consumers Coalition.

“You have to know your facts and figures before you point fingers,” Geerlings said in response to Consumers Coalition’s claims. I don’t need publicity stunts. I performed my duty and was being transparent by informing and keeping the people of our country updated with factual information about our nation’s state of affairs from a financial perspective.”

He said the payment arrears to SZV were part of debt servicing to be solved and an integral part of the Kingdom Instruction to Sint Maarten since 2015. The payment arrears also form a part of a so-called Development Policy Operation (DPO) with the World Bank since the beginning of 2018.

“In this DPO, once St. Maarten succeeds in certain policy initiatives, an amount of budget support will be paid out by the World Bank that benefits St. Maarten and its people.

“However, the Kingdom Council of Ministers is currently changing the original instruction from 2015 in acknowledgement of the impossibility for St. Maarten to comply since the challenges brought forward by the 2017 hurricanes, and will propose a new timeframe for St. Maarten to comply with that instruction,” Geerlings said in a press release.

“Government decided in consultation with the World Bank Steering Committee to take the payment arrears into account as well in the DPO programme. As a result, in 2019 we finalised agreements on our payment arrears with TelEm and GEBE, and already started paying them back. Discussions with the General Pension Fund APS are expected to be finalised within the short term as well, while we already paid them back 50 per cent of the total arrears in 2019.

“With SZV we signed a letter of intent. The reason for that is that the total arrears consist of a number of various amounts, some of them still to be audited by us [government – Ed.]. For instance, if SZV claims amounts for the execution of the Civil Servants Sickness arrangements, we ourselves must determine if those figures are correctly taken up in their [SZV’s] annual account, and we are busy with that.

“To have at least an idea of the total amount due to SZV, and as a preliminary basis for further negotiations about how to repay this large amount, a letter of intent was signed, with clear stipulations what work still needs to be done. We also must report to the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT about these amounts regularly.”

He said CFT had noted recently, that government’s debt to SZV had diminished some years ago because of the sale of the Government Administration Building, amongst other things, but has risen quite dramatically since then because of monies owed over several years related to healthcare cost, etc.

“I not only tried to get clear figures with all parties with payment arrears, but, for instance, paid back or solved otherwise an amount of some NAf. 50 million in arrears within the first three quarters of 2019,” Geerlings said.