PHILIPSBURG–The General Audit Chamber of St. Maarten has reservations about government’s intention to acquire the building of Bureau Telecommunication & Post (BTP).
In its report titled “Retrospective: 10 years General Audit Chamber”, the advisory body dedicated specific attention to BTP, and reinvestigated the governance at this entity in 2020 after an initial report in 2015.
“The St. Maarten government is considering purchasing BTP’s building. We wonder whether this will constitute using public funds to acquire the building for a second time,” the Audit Chamber stated in relation to plans of government to acquire the building owned by BTP, for which an amount of NAf. 8 million has been reserved.
In the past, the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic and Telecommunication granted permission to acquire the building. The intention is to take over the building management and to pay off the mortgage. The three floors, currently empty, will be used by public departments after purchase instead of paying rent to third parties.
According to the Audit Chamber, the BTP Director has indicated that he is not aware of government’s intention to “buy” the building, but he is aware of the interest expressed by the current Minister of TEATT for accommodating several government services in the building.
“We believe that in keeping with the National Ordinance BTP, all funds must be deposited quarterly into the Treasury after deduction of cost. In our opinion, if the government proceeds with the purchase of the building, these funds paid to BTP should also flow to the Treasury after deduction of cost. Besides, the floors are being purchased with public funds,” it was stated in the Audit Chamber report.
In general, the Audit Chamber was not too positive about the functioning of the BTP. Since 2015, when the Audit Chamber investigated the BTP, there has been little improvement in terms of compliance with the National Ordinance BTP and (lawful) financial transfers.
The Ministry of Finance has reported that BTP failed to transfer any funds to the country since 2017. The 2020 budget includes income from the BTP of NAf. 1.9 million. The income of BTP was NAf. 1.86 million in 2019. Trnsfers are calculated as income minus reasonable operational and infrastructure costs.
The Audit Chamber questioned the so-called “disaster reserve fund” that is included in BTP’s 2020 budget. “It is not clear to us if this is allowed per the National Ordinance BTP. In total, NAf. 1.152 million in reserves is budgeted. For 2020, BTP expects, after deduction of costs and reserves, a net income of NAf. 2.34 million. This money should be paid to the government.”
The Audit Chamber said it was unaware of the reason for the difference between the expected revenues in the government’s budget of NAf. 1.9 million and BTP’s net revenues of BTP of NAf. 2.34 million. In 2015, the Audit Chamber already established that the payments to government were not occurring according to the National Ordinance BTP.
“It is striking that from 2017 going forward, the actual income is always NAf. 0. Since 2017, the realisation has been NAf. 0. BTP is required to pay the government quarterly but does not. That means that BTP is accruing debt to government,” stated the Audit Chamber, which also noted that the financial statements of the BTP for the years 2017 through 2019 were not available. The most recent financial statements of the BTP date back to 2016.
According to BTP, approximately NAf. 4.5 million was transferred to government in the period 2015 to 2017. This is not in line with the information provided by the Ministry of Finance.
At the beginning of 2020, BTP had accrued payment arrears of about NAf.10 million. In August 2020, part of the government’s outstanding claim against BTP was compensated against government debt to TelEm and subsequently against TelEm’s debt to BTP. Based on this, there has been an improvement in terms of the backlog of payments from BTP to government.
Bron: Daily Herald