Constitution Day Address of Minister Dr. Rhoda Arrindell at Extraordinary Plenary Session of Parliament, October 10, 2011

PHILIPSBURG - Madam President, His Excellency drs. Eugene Holiday, Governor of St. Martin, Honorable Prime Minister, Mrs. Sarah Wescot-Williams, Honorable Members of Parliament, Colleagues in the Council of Ministers, Distinguished Guests, People of our beloved St. Martin, Ladies and Gentlemen:

One year ago today, St. Martin attained its new constitutional status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This was a culmination of a 10-year struggle that began with the mandate given by the people in the referendum of 2000.

We are, indeed, celebrating a multiple anniversary today. The first Constitution of St. Martin went into effect on October 10, 2010. The present government also took office on that day.

The very first Parliament of St. Martin was sworn in on that day, while His Excellency, Governor Eugene Holiday similarly began his term of office as the Territory's first Governor on that very same day. Congratulations to each and every one of these instances.

But while we can bask in the glory of this day, in its significance and the opportunities it has opened up for us as a people, it would be, in my humble view, perhaps, more appropriate to throw a sober look back and ask ourselves the simple question: what does this day really mean to the average St. Martiner? In other words, how has our first year functioning under this new constitutional status affected the lives of our fellow men and women?

Madame President, honorable Members of Parliament,

When I listen to what the people are saying out there, the answer to that question is, indeed, rather disappointing, and perhaps legitimately so.

"10-10-10", as this new constitutional status was branded, was seen as if it were the coming of the Messiah. It was a milestone that was viewed actually as a magic wand that would bring instant cure and relief to all our cares and worries.

It was a day of great expectations. Numerologists would have seen some good fortune in those numbers: "triple 10". Ten, as you know, in some cultures, is the number of perfection. Triple 10 could, therefore, have stood for perfection in each of the Trias Politica: the Legislative; the Judiciary and the Executive branches of government. Well then,10, in actual fact, is what we should all aim for. However, the grim reality is that we are far from those perfect grades.

The expectations awoken in the population far outstripped the crude facts we have had to deal with in this first year of our new constitutional status. Are the expectations of our people legitimate? Of course, they are. Is it realistic for those expectations to be met within one year? That is a question for each of us to answer. In my opinion, however, the real question to answer is this: what did the people really want when they voted for this new constitutional status over 11 years ago?

I believe the people of St. Martin wanted to take their destiny in their own hands. I believe it was not so much about getting away from Willemstad – we actually have not completely severed those ties – as it was about obtaining more autonomy to take decisions about matters that affect our daily lives by ourselves, right here in St. Martin. As we cast our look back to this first year, it is relevant to ask: is that what we really got? We can see a true reflection of the sentiments of our people in the answer they give to that question.

A young student asked me not too long ago: what does "10-10-10" mean? I had to search deep inside me to give an honest answer to the innocence and yearning for knowledge wrapped up in that question. I wanted to respond with one word: "freedom", but I couldn't for fear of what I anticipated would have been the follow up question: "freedom from what?" For sure, it wasn't from Curacao; and certainly not from Holland.

I was tempted to try my hand at being funny and say, "those are the grades I expect you to get in Math, English and Social Studies." But I am not the Philosopher of Humor and I was afraid the student might not have found anything to laugh about in that.

As a matter of fact, a similar question was posed to a number of Principals of secondary schools on the island in a "Special" which The Daily Herald dedicated in its Weekender on Saturday to this anniversary.

I did not see in any of the answers given, any clear indication of what the status change means for St. Martin. This is not a critique of their response, which I found generally interesting, but more a measure of the difficulty of that simple question the young student asked me.

After some thought, my answer to the student, who in hindsight, might have had that as a school assignment, was that our new constitutional status means St. Martin has decided it is time to grow up and take responsibility for its own actions and its own future. That is what it means to me, in a nutshell. But is that all? Certainly not. The constraints built into the new system we are functioning under have not only been frustrating, but do not hold up to the simplest litmus test of any democratic order where the will of the people is supreme.

Madame President, Honorable Members of Parliament,

I humbly submit that the ultimate destiny of any nation is freedom. For us, that is very much a work in progress and I can assure you that there is no turning back now. Our struggle to build a new St. Martin nation did not start on October 10, 2010. It did not start with the referenda of 1994 and 2000. It began way, way back on the plantations and the salt ponds, certainly in the Great Salt Pond, cradle of our nation.

IF we do not recognize this by proclaiming July 1, Emancipation Day, a national public holiday, would we be moving forward in our efforts at nation-building? If we do not ask this Parliament to approve a National Anthem for St. Martin as we intend to do shortly, in compliance with the stipulations of the Constitution we are celebrating today, would we be laying a sound element in the foundation for that new nation we are called to build? And if we do not embrace the notion of a sovereign and independent St. Martin and begin to lay the building blocks for this, can we expect to be considered a country by the rest of the world, or even by the totality of our people?

We have come this far because of the sweat, tears and blood of many who preceded us. I need not call their names here, because we all know them very well, I suppose. Some of them are no longer with us, and some of them are actually in this Chamber today. We salute them and all the sacrifice they have made for the land of St. Martin, for the people of St. Martin.

On this first anniversary of Constitution Day, it is my hope and prayer that we shall all work toward a new St. Martin whose Constitution will not be subordinate to any other; whose flag will not fly below any other; and whose people will not feel inferior to any other people because of the lack of "sovereign equality." A St. Martin where our children will receive top-class education, where the most vulnerable amongst us would not feel abandoned nor alienated; where there will be justice for all and every law-abiding individual would be able to seek prosperity, hold a decent job and pursue happiness in peace and in freedom.

It is not a St. Martin too difficult to picture; it is not a dream that cannot be realized. It is our common destiny, beckoning to us, asking of us to make the necessary sacrifices to birth it. It is not yet uhuru,—to use that classic word for freedom—but it is coming-to-come by our very doing. Our work is cut out for us. So, on this day, let us all resolve to roll up our sleeves and with renewed vigor, do whatever it takes to build that new St. Martin nation. I am here, as a humble servant, to work with you and to work for a better St. Martin.

Happy Constitution Day to one and all.

God bless you and God bless our beloved Sweet St. Martin Land.

I thank you.

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