THE GOVERNOR’S ADDRESS

PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten -

THE GOVERNOR’S ADDRESS

DELIVERED BY HIS EXCELLENCY GOVERNOR EUGENE B. HOLIDAY

ON THE OCCASION OF THE

OPENING OF THE PARLIAMENTARY YEAR

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2012

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

 

Today we stand just one month removed from the second anniversary of the birth of our country St. Maarten. Over that 23 months period our country has faced the challenges of a continued volatile global environment. A global environment of weak growth, recurring high fuel costs, and persistent financial fragility; a global volatility the end of which is not yet in sight. With our tourism-based open economy, these developments continue to put pressure on the overall financial and economic situation of Sint Maarten.  

It is under these unfavorable conditions that the government continues to take steps to consolidate the accomplishments of the 2010 constitutional reform and to build and shape our young country. It is under these circumstances that the current government formulated the Governing Program 2012 – 2014, with the theme “Working for the People”. The objective of which is to develop and execute policies that touch the lives of our people through a broad common agenda for sustainable development grounded in sound financial governance.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Essential to governments vision is a cohesive national society. It is governments policy, as part of its nation building efforts, to strengthen awareness of and pride in being a St. Maartener. Culture as a unifying factor represents our identity as a people, as a nation. It is the foundation upon which we must build our St. Maarten Nation. We must therefore through the education of our students and the community at large preserve our culture. Actions in this regard include:

       Promotion of knowledge and proper use of our national symbols, such as our flag and anthem

       Recognizing and protecting our national monuments;

       Building of a National Museum;

       Building of a National Theatre for the Performing Arts of St. Maarten;

       Building the archives of our historical and cultural heritage in recognition of  our National Heroes/Heroines; and

       Promoting the development and recognition of national artists.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Framed by governments vision of improving the future of the people of Sint Maarten and conscious of the realities of the day the governing program cites: Education, Safety, the Economy, the Environment, Infrastructure, Health Care, Social Welfare, District Improvements and Housing, as areas of initial concentration to be developed and acted upon.

A critical reality is the challenge of limited financial resources to fund the plans required to achieve the envisioned objectives. A reality as reflected in the corrective measures implemented to amend and balance the 2012 budget in July of this year. Realities which, through government’s policy agenda, have led to a shift in priorities in some instances, while Government has given its support to ongoing initiatives in others, to avoid potential litigation and stagnation of other vital activities.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Looking ahead, government’s ambitions will have a strong focus on the development needs of our new nation. Government’s Integrated Development Planning Approach, will bring government, the public and private stakeholders together. This approach will as a result create social cohesion, strengthen the nation and serve as an umbrella for promoting Good Governance at different levels of society.

Government believes that residents ought to take responsibility for their neighborhoods. With government showing keen interest in the districts on St. Maarten, the aim of neighborhood development is to strengthen neighborhood organizations, such as community councils, and assist them in getting the residents to participate in district programs to build vibrant districts. These are districts where people enjoy living; where businesses will set up shop, and where children will grow up happy. On a macro level, this will translate into love for and pride in Sint Maarten, the country we all call home.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Critical to the development and execution of government’s policies, government is investing in data collection and management systems. By digitalizing the archives of the Civil Registry, the Government of St. Maarten has made an important start in creating sustainable data storage. This project is just the beginning, and the government of St. Maarten will take further actions to set up a national archive and develop a policy regarding digitalizing and archiving for other departments in the future. Besides sustainable data storage, a digital archive also contributes to faster and more customer friendly public services.

Moreover, in promoting sound fact based decision making and in keeping with the principles of democratic governance, government will, present Sint Maarten’s Comprehensive Integrity Policy at the end of 2012, which will be followed by the establishment of the Integrity Bureau as of January 1st, 2013.

To bring its policies to the people, government shall redirect its integrated neighborhood development planning concept resulting in “providing public services from different locations, operating as one department”. In that context government has decided to start up a public services center in the Simpson Bay area, which will be the pilot project for all other centers, including the public service center in the New Government Building.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

In pursuing government’s ambitions of working for the people, the vision for education plays a central role.

Governments strategic objective is to set standards of education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. This is aimed at providing a well-rounded education which meets the needs of St. Maarten’s students in academics, technology, culture, sports and artistic development as well as to socially and emotionally enable them to reach their highest potential. To achieve this government will take steps to, among others:

       improve the knowledge level of St. Maarten in both English and Dutch;

       promote a culture of continuous learning through support and development of higher learning institutions to meet the needs of the job market;

       foster entrepreneurship programs within secondary and tertiary schools; and

       provide opportunities for educational achievement for students with special needs, as well as guidance and support for their families

Furthermore, government considers sports to be a fundamental part of cultivating a healthy body, mind and spirit. The goal therefore is to further strengthen and develop sports on St. Maarten and to ensure that all citizens will have the opportunity to develop this fundamental foundation by supporting and promoting recreational as well as sporting competitions locally, regionally and internationally to allow for our athletes to reach their highest potential.

 

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Like education, good health is a basic condition for the people to grow and develop. To promote and protect the health, safety and general well-being of all St. Maarteners, government is engaged in health care policy reforms. These reforms include  preparations for the phased introduction of a new health insurance system. The National Health Insurance legislation, based on the philosophy of equal access to essential health services, will be presented for decision making in 2012. Additionally the Government is preparing a new law to secure quality care to strengthen controls on the quality, registration and training requirements of medical professionals.

It is a global trend that health care costs are continuing to rise due to various factors. As a result government, to secure the sustainability of the health care system and services, is pursuing consistent investments in prevention and primary health services. Government is therefore committed to projects and programs such as:

a.       “Nutrition and Physical education”,

b.      “Get checked”: and

c.       “Health Observances Days”.

 

Moreover, government will, as part of its investments in public infrastructure, foster investments in the “infrastructure” of public health, healthcare systems and social services. In concrete terms, government will continue to take steps to ensure that the St. Maarten Medical Center meets the needs of a growing and changing St. Maarten demography as well as expands its services to accommodate more medical specialties and support services. In addition, government intends to further the development of medical tourism on Sint Maarten. At the same time, government shall also build its oversight capacity by placing emphasis on an effective Inspectorate of Public Health.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Another, focal point of government’s vision is St. Maarten’s Social Agenda. Government’s aim therefore is to make social services more accessible, transparent, fair and sustainable, targeting vulnerable groups and those living in or on the brink of poverty. In living up to international standards and adopted international treaties, government will ensure the establishment of a Council for the Elderly and a Human Rights Platform to enable initiatives based on consensus and consultation. In this regard, social security policies and legislation have been reviewed and the outcome of the proposed revisions will be decided on in 2012. The government will introduce a revised financial aid ordinance that adjusts the benefits to the cost of living, and ease current bureaucracy. The results of extensive research and consultations indicate that St. Maarten should also take the factors of aging and a sustainable social security into consideration. Pension reform will be prepared including a first phase of adjustments in the Old Age Pension legislation (AOV) to increase the pension age to 62 and adjust benefits to pensioners. With the introduction of the new National Health Insurance law, the current medical assistance legislation and services will cease to exist and current beneficiaries of this medical aid will receive the health care package and services.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Additionally community development will take shape through a combination of simultaneous activities, summed up as integrated neighborhood development. This is a process of integrating social, cultural, economic and environmental planning to build community commitment and capacity. The first phase of the multi annual program will be concluded with an evaluation report of the three established community help desks. With the community help desk for the elderly and handicapped scheduled to be opened shortly, government will plan and introduce a second phase of community help desks. The inclusion of services that fall outside of social, labor and community development will be reviewed in order to introduce the concept of Government Public Service Centers.

On the short term, revision of the foreign employment policy will be done in tripartite dialogue, taking the social partners' and stakeholders' needs into consideration.  Other areas of the labor market which are under review are the dismissal law, employment agencies, curbing the use of 6 months contracts and mechanisms such as a labor market information system to guide policy decisions and adjustments.  Moreover, it is government’s policy to continue to actively stimulate the entry into the labor force of those persons who are unemployed.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Housing or the provision of affordable living accommodations in various districts is a core element in government’s program to work for the people. Governments ambition is to foster home ownership for young professionals and to build affordable homes for senior citizens. Considering existing financial constraints and the scarcity of land government to deliver its housing program is committed to pursue public – private partnerships through co-development programs. Social cohesion and integration will be encouraged by these programs because they uplift the district overall through decent homes, adequate infrastructure and overall cleanliness. This positive development will be further strengthened by the continued connections of buildings to sewage plants. Developments in this regard include plans to connect the St. Peters area by the end of this year and to build a sewage plant for the Cole Bay, Cape Bay and Billy Folly area.

 

In addition to addressing the shortage in housing government is committed to resolving the congestion on our roads through the execution of the Comprehensive Road Network Plan aimed at eliminating a number of key traffic bottlenecks. Moreover, supporting its infrastructure policies government is carrying on with the zoning project and is busy finalizing zoning plans with presentations to the communities.  The Zoning St. Maarten project aims to have all zoning plans covered by laws in 2014.

Consistent with its zoning plan, government appreciates the work being done by several NGOs in the area of environmental preservation and management. The focus in this regard is on the further development of the marine park and on the designation of a terrestrial park. In this regard government plans to formalize the purchase of the Emilio Wilson Estate within short and charge existing NGOs with its management. Moreover, government will establish an Energy Policy which will include the use of alternative energy such as Solar and Wind and the introduction of a Net Metering Policy. Additionally, government is in the process of working out plans to build a Waste to Energy facility to offer a sustainable solution to the waste management on our island.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

To increase public order and safety, government envisions the expansion of the Police Force to approximately 400 employees within the next few years. That will meet the community’s and visitors demand for higher security and visibility of police officers and the objective of government to put safety as first priority. It is against this background that government has introduced community policing in 2012. That brings the police officers closer to the citizens in their own neighborhoods.

In addition, government has taken steps to reorganize its immigration services, by separating it from the police. The new immigration service can thus direct its focus solely on border control and admission and expulsion coordination for Sint Maarten aimed at providing quality services and maintaining border control. 

Whereas government’s first priority is the prevention of crime, government at the same time is taking steps to expand and improve detention facilities to guarantee the protection of our community from offenders.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

To help achieve its vision for the people, government will reform the management of the local tourism industry with the establishment of the St. Maarten Tourism Authority as of January 1, 2013. Through this vehicle government, in conjunction with the private sector, will continue to pursue initiatives to realize year round tourism. Actions include promoting Princes Juliana International Airport as a Hub, the development of niche tourism markets such as convention tourism, sports tourism and off-shore educational and medical services as well as the strengthening of the South American and European markets. Moreover government will, move to implement its Statistical Dashboard, reorganize public transportation through the changing lanes project and set up the Gaming Control Board.

The central objective of government’s economic policies is to create jobs in support of the education and social agenda. As such government will support initiatives with an emphasis on promoting and supporting entrepreneurship and small business development. In particular the St. Maarten Aquaponic Farm will be established in 2013 to diversify the economic activities.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament

In view of the overall management of the economy, government will continue to pursue the building-up of the capacity of the Branch of the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten here on St. Maarten. In addition, government will on the monetary front in preparation of its currency decision solicit broad advice on the currency issue. Government also plans to establish a stock exchange to give an impulse to Sint Maarten as a financial center. Moreover, government considers compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) requirements essential for the confidence in our financial system and economy and shall work with its partners locally and abroad to realize its objectives.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

 

On a foreign relations level, Government considers cooperation on a Kingdom, regional and international level important to foster and guarantee the interest of the people of Sint Maarten. In order to achieve a solid foreign strategy and service, the government shall institute an international relations commission and strengthen its directorate of foreign relations further. An important priority of government is the stepping up of effective cooperation and partnering with French St. Martin. This is underscored by the start and ongoing joint passenger immigration control at Juliana airport and cross border police cooperation.

 

Moreover, government attaches great importance to regional cooperation as it is viewed as a tool to assist Caribbean countries in coping with our common challenges. To this end, government has taken-up and considers membership in regional organizations:

a.       that will help with institutional building;

b.      that will provide opportunities for social and economic progress;

c.       that will facilitate transfer of knowledge and best practices;

d.      that will offer technical and financial assistance in specialized areas; and

e.       that will serve domestic goals such as migration, social development, justice and diversification.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

 

On a European relations level, Sint Maarten forms part of the European Union’s Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) grouping. During the summer of 2012 the European Commission delivered a proposal for a new legislative package to the Council.  The new Decision will reflect a modernized relationship between the EU and OCTs that is  characterized by a shift from classical development - with a focus on poverty reductionto one based on a model that reconciles economic activities and social well-being in the long run, while preserving natural resources and ecosystems for future generations.

 

For St. Maarten, these aspects are strongly anchored in the ambitions of the National Development Plan that will be drafted in close cooperation with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The Government of St. Maarten recognizes that regional cooperation within the EU framework is critical to the economic progress of the country. For this purpose, St. Maarten is participating in European Development Fund (EDF) regional projects related to HIV/AIDS, small and medium enterprise development and disaster risk reduction initiative (R3I). In addition, Government has signed its Single Programming Document for the 10th EDF towards the realization of the Dutch Quarter Sewage and Drainage Project. It is therefore the intention of government to dedicate more resources to further strengthen the coordination and management of mentioned and future EU projects.

 

This has become even more important given that the plans for the termination of Dutch development cooperation funding via agencies such as USONA and AMFO, are in full execution. It is within this framework that the government of St. Maarten must research creative and innovative ways

a.       of keeping its most important economic pillar vibrant,

b.      of seeking new complimentary industries, and

c.       of simultaneously creating an enabling social environment and social safety nets for those segments of the  population, that need such.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

 

To realize its objectives and associated investments, government is working on a phased overhaul of the tax system along with a multi-annual financing plan which is to result in a simpler and more balanced system, with a stronger emphasis on indirect taxation. Components of the overhaul include the planned introduction of flat taxes, both in the income tax and profit tax areas. The first phase of the overhaul, which is planned to go into effect in 2013, will be aimed at providing direct financial relief and more spending power to those citizens who earn a maximum of ANG. 5.000,00 per month.

 

Government is also preparing a dividend policy for government-owned companies, which will take the companies’ investment strategies and debt ratios into consideration. This policy is needed to bring government and its companies in compliance with the requirements of good (corporate) governance.

 

Along with its reforms on the revenue side, government is working on making improvements to the budget process and the financial management. The focus is to strengthen the internal control and the treasury functions within government and develop a more substantiated budget to provide a clearer picture and more effective government management of governments finances in the interest of the people.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Notwithstanding the difficult external environment, government is optimistic that the outlined path provides the basis for sustained and balanced national and socio-economic developments for the people of Sint Maarten. This because it is grounded on building and expanding our society, based on the strengths of the people in the districts that make-up our country.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

In this new parliamentary year, government will reach out to you with various legislative initiatives towards the execution of its plans and realization of its objectives. As representatives of the people of Sint Maarten, government looks forward to your participation and your support in achieving the outlined vision for the coming period in the interest of the people of Sint Maarten. And as you deliberate on the issues ahead, I wish you much wisdom, strength, and God’s speed.

Thank you.

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