Today we celebrate one year of "Country Status", our own "constitution" day.
I don't know for any-one else, but any time doubt creeps into my mind regarding the wisdom of our collective choice back in 2000, I remember with extreme pride that evening of October 9th, 2010 and the dawning of the morning of 10-10-10.
I remember the faces and the expectations of our whole community; the satisfaction of accomplishment, of fulfillment of long held aspirations.
The 10th of October 2010 came amidst times of global economic uncertainties, as well as during the time that these uncertainties and global economic tumults were casting shadows on St. Maarten's path.
Nevertheless, we braced ourselves and heralded the long awaited status with much confidence in our country and ourselves.
The first Government of St. Maarten started its work on that day of October 10, 2010.
At face value during the first months not much changed. Our Parliament could not immediately occupy its new chambers;
some civil servants were still in limbo as far as their position with the new Country St. Maarten was concerned; there were quite some uncertainties relative to the workings of the new systems of government.
Recall that firstly the government's structure had changed dramatically, as our familiar island council had become parliament and our executive council, our council of Ministers.
Gone was the familiar position of the Lt. Governor.
The governor is no longer part of the daily governing of the country, yet his signature is affixed to the decrees of government. The governor also receives the decision lists of the Council of Ministers.
I am proud to note that we have insisted on and built the institutions worthy of country St. Maarten. But they too needed to get their feet wet and their bearings going.
Not only the Parliament and the Government, the Justice organization, completing the Trias Politica, but also the institutions for the checks and balances of these very three, to mention the Council of Advice, the General Audit Chamber, the Ombudsman and the SER.
Has everything gotten off to a smooth start? No, definitely not. But who is defining what we are becoming with all the bumps and hurdles in the roads? We are!
Slowly but surely, our country is taking shape, definite shape. However, we must also be prepared and assertive, ready to face new challenges that might come our way. And ready to adjust our sails to the wind.
All actors are understanding their role better and as we look at the coming 12 months, our focus should be on crafting a vision for St. Maarten that has the input of every-one and takes into account every-one.
This is no less of an undertaking that our first undertakings as a new country, and it requires a new collective mindset, that begins with each individual realizing his/her "debt" to St. Maarten.
This debt is one of gratitude. Gratitude for what this country, our country has allowed us to be and to become.
Looking back over the last 12 months, many things stand out. On the inside of government, the placement of civil servants is practically complete. This process continued even as other personnel matters had to be organized, such as the salary indexations and training of civil servants.
The government continues to seek a durable solution for the myriad of plans to be executed and the financial constrains facing government at this time.
The Cabinet of the Minister Plenipotentiary in the Hague is also up and running, representing us in the Kingdom Council of Ministers.
As St. Maarten achieved its country status, efforts to solidify regional collaboration, started immediately. St. Maarten has become a player in international and regional fora. With that however, comes the responsibility to live up to and meet reporting obligations in many areas, to mention a few: international standards and obligations relating to labor, finances, human rights and human development.
The legacy left behind by the Netherlands Antilles has had many pitfalls, but also some left us some strengths.
When I look at how, because of our former constitutional constellation, we have on St. Maarten a pool of resources, not in terms of money, but persons who have remained with us on St. Maarten, this is definitely a plus.
Government remains committed to use this legacy and seek with former Antillean islands and Aruba ways to strengthen relationships that are mutually beneficial.
Other matters that might not have gotten the attention they deserve, but are an important part of this nation and state building that we are engaged in, are e.g. the works towards our national archive, securing our historic documents, digitalizing our historic records.
In looking back over the past year, we can therefore safely conclude that we have met the challenges head-on, that a few challenges still elude us, but that we have built the foundation of country St. Maarten, and now should continue with the shaping and unifying of what is to be "the country St. Maarten".
On this day, I wish to again congratulate all who worked so hard to make our status happen, I commend those who were involved during the past year in further building our country and I call on the community at large to join in shaping the nation St. Maarten.
A nation is more than a state. A state demarcates the political lines and borders, but a nation is determined primarily what takes place within those borders. What distinguishes us from every-one else?
How do we live and work and treat one another?
I used the term "getting in gear" some days ago. And I wish to close with the expression of the hope that in the coming year and years, what we do and the preparations we have made will manifest themselves in tangible results for the people of our nation St. Maarten.
Madame Chair, I am one of those who always see the glass as being half full. Why? Because half full is not enough. It drives all women and men of good will to strive for better, ever better, always critical of ourselves firstly.
Those who see the glass as half empty, if not of a strong character and good will, will throw their hands in the air and constantly look for those who caused the glass to be half empty in the first place and knock any achievement, regardless how great or meaningful.
When I look back, sacrifices told and untold by so many persons, time lost in the process, never to be regained, still I say, if I had to do it all again, I would.
I will never stop hoping and...... working for a better St. Maarten. Never stop believing in St. Maarten and it's people. Never stop saying, we can do it ourselves.
Never stop believing, that in the words of the Rev. Father Bob Johnson earlier, we can accept the pains of change and soar like the Eagle. We can rise from the proverbial ashes, however these are brought upon us. Why?
After all, we are St. Maarten.
HAPPY CONSTITUTION DAY.