A pleasant morning to one and all.
Let me get straight to the point of my address today.
Sometimes we can make politics sound very complicated, but for me it all comes back to a simple ambition.
To make a contribution towards improving the quality of life of the citizens of your country, where opportunities
equally available and embracing the fundamental belief that people in challenging circumstances are not liabilities
to be managed, rather to be nurtured for them to reach their potential.
Most, if not all of us, occupying one of the 15 seats in the Parliament of St. Maarten and the seven appointed
Ministerial positions, campaigned to improve the lives of our people. In doing so we understood that tough
decisions would have to be made, compounded by a pandemic, that literally forced us to accept new norms
in our way of life and unreasonable conditions from the Netherlands, which breached our autonomy, to keep the country afloat.
Conditions, many agree, that would not have been considered or forced upon us if we had our affairs in order.
Living in the aftermath of disasters is nothing new to the people of St. Maarten, so their government should have
been somewhat prepared financially to buffer the fallout. It was not.
Today I am not going to rehash all of the challenges this Parliament faced over the last year and will face going forward.
I will say that in many instances this Parliament has done some good work, better than some would give it credit for.
At the end of the day however, it always comes back to that single ambition of improving lives.
As individual representatives of the people we have some very strong instincts – even prejudices sometimes – about
what will improve people’s lives, and we must act on those instincts.
Instinct we believe that people who feel in control of their own destiny feel more fulfilled. Instinctively we feel that having
the purpose of a job is as important to the soul as it is to the bank balance. Instinctively most people have a real yearning
to belong to something bigger than themselves.
We cannot simply feel it and talk about it anymore. We have to put these instincts to the practical test; we have to make
sure that government’s decisions on policy and spending are made in a balanced way, taking account of what really matters.
Our social approach should be one where we develop a realistic picture of how social problems beget social problems, that one
reinforces the other, and that they can manifest themselves throughout someone’s life leading to an ever increasing gap between
the current situation and the opportunities to that provide an opening for change.
People care about living a good life. There are many things that this Parliament and government must re-focus on if we truly
care about our people. Mr. Chairman please allow me to mention a few:
Some would have you believe that poverty became an issue in St. Maarten with COVID-19. On the contrary, COVID-19 ripped
the mask off and showed poverty for what it really is on St. Maarten: a reality. As a country we must be able to seriously explore
a pathway out of poverty and toward development as needed. Our mission should be to assist any one in distress without
distinction for race, origin or religion. We must focus on projects with solid economic and social returns and create favorable
conditions for poverty reduction and to keep our anti-poverty cause on a sustainable path. In the bigger picture the only thing
which matters is human dignity.
The fuel clause
Now Mr. Chairman, if we want to talk about something that’s making people poor, look no further than GEBE’s fuel clause.
The constant rise of fuel cost and the country’s inability to ensure that we start using alternative energy is just mind boggling.
Fuel went up in St. Maarten with 38% from November 2020 to July 2021. Today many would have noticed the value of a
Waste to Energy plant in this country. Instead we are being cut because we cannot afford electricity and water anymore.
People literally have no space in their budget to meet their obligation to pay their utility bills which increased three-fold
when the fuel clause is added.
I do not fully comprehend the choice of words by government recently that long-lease land could be taken and
“put to good use” as if the home on that property is not considered “good use”. Tax reforms are necessary yes, but why
add this mental burden on people, especially seniors, at a time when people are drowning in worry about paying monthly
bills including mortgages. When a senior taxi driver has to take the same SSRP support to pay taxes levied, then something
is totally backwards. Apparently Naf 2 million seems to be too much for us to alleviate our seniors from. We can find monies
for everything else but not for them. I hope we can together change the mindset of some in this country that aren’t helping
us progress. Under our country shield is a Latin motto “Semper pro grediens” and it wasn’t chosen for only good times but also bad times.
This lack of empathy is very concerning.
Rising food cost
Food cost is ballooning all over the world due to the pandemic and in St. Maarten it is no different. It is made even worse by
the fact that we have to import everything. The talk of some sort of retail tax at the point of import needs clarifying and serious
thought must go into this and the effect it will have on already high food prices. Wholesalers and Retailers in this country can
only maintain price levels for so long before their respective businesses start to tank. Before that happens, we can bet that
extra taxes and fees will be passed on to the consumers. It is a catastrophe that could be triggered by poorly thought out tax legislation.
Poverty eradication, addressing GEBE’s fuel clause, food prices and fair tax reforms, the minimum wage and eliminating
once and for all the damaging stigma that surrounds addiction and mental health, are the real issues that people care about.
These are the issues that if addressed correctly and in a sustainable manner, could immediately improve the quality of life of
our people, mostly on a financial level.
Of course there are other important issues for our country that affect our lives and that I hope I will have the opportunity
to work with government on in the benefit of our people, our social cohesion and our economy.
Some of these include:
- The Financial situation of the country. I hope to see soon a realistic post-pandemic economic recovery report.
- Our fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic. I look forward to government enforcing its protocols and holding those
accountable who do not respect these protocols. Leading by example is still an ideal we should embrace.
I hope to see an end to this constant loss of life, while the debate between vaccinated vs. unvaccinated continues relentlessly.
- I look forward with great interest to continuing the Decolonization discussion and the way forward with the statute and the dispute regulation.
- I suspect with COHO 2.0 on the horizon, that the effect of parliament functionalities due to demands made by the
Dutch government for liquidity support will be a recurring issue along with the trampling of democracy and the abuse of the CFT
mandate by the Kingdom Council. The public expects to be able to hold the government directly accountable, and as a consequent
of COHO these entities sit in an uneasy position in relation to our political history and way of life.
- In that same context, the level of trust and working relationship with our partners in the Kingdom must be addressed and enhanced.
- It might be uncomfortable to discuss, but the depth of racism, cultural differences, inequality and its effects on the population can’t be
ignored. Creating division amongst ourselves was always a way of ruling this country. We ourselves are also a master at this game.
- Our relationship with the French side in moving this country ahead with its country packages and new taxes should be properly thought
out and discussed.
- Something that I campaigned on and look to further move along this Parliamentary session, is developing a Tolerance Policy for the
usage of cannabis / Marijuana by the people just like it’s allowed in other parts of the Kingdom.
- Reintroduction of the off shore market just like it’s allowed in the Netherlands in particular and copy the laws that govern them.
If it’s good for the goose then let it also be good for the gander.
- Instead of constantly using the cry of human smuggling of women working in the clubs, bring the law or we should initiate the law to
legalize such. It has been happening for 50 plus years on St. Maarten from the days of the Japanese club to the now sophisticated setups
in dance clubs, strip- clubs, internet and even house calls. We all know it’s not going to stop so why not legalize or stop taking the
employees and employers money for work and residency permits. Additionally, according to the Dutch government, the responsibility
of so called-human smuggling lies with the individual countries. With that being the case, let us then finally move to regulating the
industry, so everyone know what the rules are.
- Key discussions to be finalized are the Electoral law, the screening law and the position of the governor in signing of the appointment
decrees, as this should be something of the past. We must be able to appoint our people since we voted for the representatives of
Parliament who support the appointed ministers with a majority in parliament.
Justice Denied, isn’t justice served
There is a dangerous undercurrent of misuse of justice that might be affecting me and others today, but could very well land
in anyone’s backyard tomorrow. I hope, with every bit of energy in me, that the Parliament and Government of St. Maarten
will finally ask the questions about the ongoing abuses in the justice system and that finally we address this with conviction
and courage. Which questions you might ask?
Here are a few:
- How blind is justice truly on St. Maarten and are those placed in charge really executing justice in the name of justice or
based on an agenda.
- Why is finding the truth not necessarily the objective of a prosecution. In St. Maarten it seems to be about the score.
Who checks whom in the justice system and how can we trust that the checks and balances are integer.
- Are the laws applied differently in the various parts of our kingdom and if yes why is that?
- Do privacy laws truly exist in our country like they do in the Netherlands? The prosecutors and judges come from there,
yet they do it completely differently here. Why is that?
Mr. Chairman I make these statements as I’m seeing them from up close. The news of the recent termination of the TBO team
on St. Maarten is well received. I believe this unit and the methods it practiced in carrying out THE AGENDA has done more
damage than good to this country on so many levels; but the details are for another day.
In closing I say to the public and my colleagues in Parliament, that the time has come for us to stop using “St. Maarten First”
as a cute quote to sound patriotic. The time has come to accept what truly matters to people, zoom in on the issues, and
tackle them with determination and effectiveness. Vanity projects and issues that are not a priority to realize an improved
standard of living for our people should be put on the back burner.
Like all countries, we were affected by the COVID crisis. However, despite the temporary slowing in our growth rate as a
result of the current circumstances, we cannot use this as an excuse to further burden our people. We must be creative
and think big to increase employment levels, reduce cost of living and to continue reducing social inequality. It cannot be
austerity, austerity, austerity. History reveals that austerity, when exaggerated and isolated from growth, is self-defeating.
Yes, one of the reasons that our democracy has been such a success for so many years is because of the strength of our
identity and the respect we show to one another as fellow citizens and to those we welcome to our shores. We have helped
many before as we were helped in the early to mid-nineteen hundreds when we travelled abroad to work to feed our families.
However, this moment in the development of this young country, dictates that we now need to take care of our own and build
our nation to what we want it to be, based on the strength of our identity, not on the will of others. If we need to change the
charter so that proper self-determination as per our autonomy can truly be realized, or if we need to go towards more independence
to achieve such then the people of this country who believe St. Maarten is their permanent home should decide what we do.
We must find the courage to finally take the mantle of builders of a nation through our actions. Nation building is about taking
risks every time; it involves not just defending one’s basic interests, or positions which have at times led to tension. It is about
the risk of dialogue, of compromise, of rebuilding trust and the courage to assume responsibility with respect to many of our challenges.
If we have grown weaker, it is because we have decided, too often, to challenge the truth, to contest the facts, to take a short-term
view, to protect certain interests at times, and this has led to a loss of meaning and direction.
We must work together. I do not believe in taking the easy road of pessimism; nor do I believe in division. I believe in our ability to
make proposals, think, work together, and build this country on a sound agenda of growth for all who will allow us to again look
forward to the future. I thank you Mr. Chairman. God bless St. Maarten.