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Motions to remove land and inheritance taxes approved by St. Maarten parliament

FRIDAY, 23 MARCH 2012

~ No majority support for motions on pond, estate ~

PHILIPSBURG–Motions to remove the inheritance (succession) tax of one million guilders from the 2012 budget and to put the land tax collection on hold until new legislation is tabled within 60 days to eliminate it were adopted unanimously by Parliament on Thursday night, shortly before the budget itself received approval from a majority of the Members of Parliament (MPs).

The draft budget amendment that accompanied the inheritance tax motion and another to increase the subsidy to the Pony League were withdrawn by Democratic Party (DP) and United People’s (UP) party MPs together with independent MP Patrick Illidge after consultation with the Council of Ministers and it was explained that any amendment could obstruct approval of the budget at this stage.

An amendment would have meant that the budget would have to be reviewed again by the Advisory Council, despite the amendment being budget-neutral.

Another concession related to these two motions was that the shifting of funds within the budget to cover the shortfall created by the removal of the NAf. 1 million budgeted for inheritance tax collection and the increase of the Pony League subsidy would be left to the discretion of the Council of Ministers.

In the case of the Pony League, it was recommended that the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation subsidy be cut. However, Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Franklin Meyers suggested leaving that subsidy intact and instead reallocate money from the tourism budget for the Pony League and the Little League. An increase for the latter league had been suggested by National Alliance (NA) leader MP William Marlin in his presentation earlier in the day.

Meyers explained that NAf. 210,000 had been budgeted for the drafting of the timeshare ordinance, but this was no longer needed because the professor who drafted it had not charged for his work.

Also adopted unanimously were the motions tabled by MP Romain Laville (UP) on regulation of pawnshops and the request to government to start a study within 90 days on alternative energy, especially the use of LED lights. Justice Minister Roland Duncan had recommended that Parliament pass the pawnshop motion, adding that his ministry was ready to execute it by drafting legislation in consultation with the Ministry of Tourism and Economic Affairs.

Mullet Pond

Laville was the only member of the UP/DP/Illidge coalition to vote for the motion to protect Mullet Pond as tabled by independent MP Frans Richardson. The motion was rejected by Parliament because it only received seven of the 15 votes. The five NA members, Frans Richardson and Laville voted for the motion.

Laville said not all MPs were “cut from the same cloth” and that he supported the motion because it was for protecting the pond, a move that would allow him to “sleep good tonight.”

Justifying his vote, MP De Weever said the motion would “jeopardise the future development” of the country and do a “disservice” to the Ministry of Infrastructure VROMI which is busy with development and zoning plans. MP Roy Marlin expressed the same sentiments.

MP William Marlin (NA) said it was time to do what was good for the country and not let the people’s patrimony be further destroyed. Similarly, MPs George Pantophlet and Louie Laveist saw the need to protect the pond.

Emilio Wilson Estate

The motion to protect Emilio Wilson Estate from any development also did not receive majority support. MP Frans Richardson said former members of the People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA) who were now UP MPs owed the people an apology, because the PPA manifesto had called for the purchase and protection of the estate by government.

MP Louie Laveist (NA) suggested that “a 50 cent fee” be levied on all slot machines, or a US $2 environmental fee for visitors be put in place to get money to pay off any loan government obtained to purchase the estate. Should those alternatives not be acceptable, the people would be willing to buy the estate by paying a “one or two cents gasoline excise fee.”

MP Laville said that although he believed the estate should be protected and “regretfully” voted against the motion, he was not fully clear on the scope of the planned recreational attraction or on the particulars of the estate. He said businesses and nature reserves coexisted in other parts of the world, citing Niagara Falls as an example.

MP Roy Marlin, who also voted against the motion, cited the commingling of business and reserve at Brimstone Hill in St. Kitts. He said that there was no money in the budget to buy the estate and that no MP had brought any solution throughout the debate.

MP De Weever said the motion was “full of complicated messages” and the way it was worded was asking Parliament to get into trouble. He said he could not understand why there was the constant reminder about the estate’s link to slavery and there should be a moving away from this.

MP George Pantophlet (NA) did not like the reference about forgetting about slavery and said asking people to forget about slavery was like asking the Jews to forget the Holocaust.

MP Hyacinth Richardson was against any development on the estate especially one that would benefit only tourists. He preferred that a state-of-art medical centre or recreational centre be built on the property.

Land tax

The motion tabled by independent MP Patrick Illidge to put the land tax on hold until legislation was tabled within 60 days to eliminate it also was approved unanimously.

There was some criticism from opposition National Alliance (NA) MPs that coalition MPs were conveniently in favour of motions that related to issues on which government still was working, such as the new tax system. This comment was in reference to the votes on Emilio Wilson Estate and Mullet Pond, which the coalition MPs said they could not support because government was working on zoning.

Plastic bags

Parliament also voted unanimously to implement a ban on single-use plastic bags. Two motions calling for this were presented by MPs Johan “Janchi” Leonard (UP) and independent MP Frans Richardson. The two later worked on merging the motions into one.

The approved motion gives government 120 days to draft an ordinance for Parliament to approve to ban the importation of the plastic bags and call on wholesalers and retailers to provide paper, reusable or biodegradable bags.

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