PHILIPSBURG –“To the people of Sint Maarten, to our residents and to our guests, as we say good-bye to 2018, I take this opportunity on behalf of the Government of Sint Maarten to wish you a Prosperous and Happy New Year 2019. 2018 has been a year of immense challenges but through faith, perseverance and God’s grace we continue to overcome and are in a better position to build on the many successes we have accomplished over the past few months.
On January 15th I was appointed as Prime Minister of Sint Maarten, tasked with the job of overseeing the rebuilding process through the execution of the National Recovery & Resilience Plan. The NRRP is the roadmap to building back Sint Maarten. An excerpt from the document outlining the vision states as follows and I quote, “the overarching goal is to restore, secure and strengthen the wellbeing of the people of Sint Maarten. This requires a resilient community in a healthy living environment, a resilient growing and more diversified economy and a transparent effective Government with enhanced capacity” end quote
Together with the previous and current Council of Ministers, we managed to push this country forward in the face of criticism both internally and externally. I want to thank all the Ministers who continue to work tirelessly to see this recovery process through to a successful end. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed and I urge each of you to remain focused on the National Recovery & Resilience Plan and the Governing Program as the two principle guiding documents on which all plans are to be executed.
Now, allow me to look back at some of the accomplishments of 2018.
In February, the Government Sint Maarten secured 50 million guilders in liquidity for the daily operations and later an additional sum of NAf. 32.6 million was achieved to ensure that the Government met its obligations for the year 2018.
On April 16th in Washington DC, together with the previous Minister of Finance Michael Ferrier, we witnessed the signing of the Trust Fund Agreement between the Netherlands and the World Bank for 470 million euros or US $580 million US dollars. With the official signing of the agreement, over 100 million US dollars was set aside in the 1st tranche for projects such as;
The Sint Maarten Emergency Recovery Project, which was approved on July 10, for 55.2 million dollars and has as its objective, to contribute to Sint Maarten’s immediate emergency recovery needs. Additionally the goal is to strengthen institutional capacity, to manage resilient recovery and reconstruction by supporting the repair and equipment of shelters, houses, the resilience of the energy and water supply, and the strengthening of the emergency response system.
The Emergency Income Support and Training Project was approved on August 2nd, for 22.5 million dollars with the objective to provide temporary income support, improve the employability of affected beneficiaries in targeted sectors, and strengthen the social protection system’s capacity for shock-response and protection of the poor. The project provides income support to under-employed and unemployed persons, who are not currently working in the wake of Hurricane Irma and are faced with declining tourism revenues. Approximately 1,800 people receives skills training in exchange for a stipend over the next 18 months.
Just 2 weeks later on August 16th the Sint Maarten Hospital Resiliency & Preparedness Project was approved for 25 million dollars considering that the only existing hospital in the country was unsuitable for a complete re-design over the long-term, it was decided that a new Sint Maarten General Hospital would be built. The construction of a new and larger facility, that will be more resilient to climate shocks, was approved. The project will contribute to a rise in the new hospital’s bed capacity from 66 to 110, improvements in the scope and quality of health services with new operating theaters and larger areas for ambulatory care. This new hospital will help reduce costly overseas medical referrals, and will strengthen preparedness and delivery of medical services in case of future emergencies and extreme weather events.
As of September 1st 2018, with financing coming from the Trust Fund the Government of Sint Maarten joined the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), purchasing coverage for tropical cyclones, earthquakes and excess rainfall. This is an important feature considering the urgent need for liquidity by any government following a disaster.
At the OCT Resilience Summit during the month of October I had the privilege as Regional Authorizing Officer to sign the 11th EDF Caribbean Regional Program for projects on “Resilience, sustainable energy and bio marine diversity” to the tune of $40 million euros of which 20 million is allocated to resilience. Resilient programs form this fund will help the country to mitigate the immediate financial impacts of disasters.
Just recently, the Sint Maarten Emergency Debris Management Project was signed for 25 million US dollars in funding to suppress the fires on the landfill, salvage the remaining ships in the Simpson Bay Lagoon and clear the island of any remaining hurricane debris. The project will also provide financing to improve the management of the landfill and decommission the Irma-dumpsite.
As we look forward to 2019, I pledge to do everything I can within my authority to create a better living environment for all persons on Sint Maarten. We must continue to build on the foundation that was laid in 2018. As we look to the future, we must inspire the youth to prepare themselves to take this country to the next level. Let us establish a new Sint Maarten dream that sits on the pillars of a SMART & Resilient country. As government, we have set out to accomplish a number of priorities, programs and plans for 2019.
One of the first priorities of this Government will be to pass Budget 2019 as quickly as possible in order to facilitate all the plans that have been envisioned. With an approved Budget 2019 Government can carry out the key priorities as set out in the Governing Program “Building a sustainable Sint Maarten”.
As a community, you will be happy to know that monies has been set aside to establish a Disaster Fund. A target figure of 1.2 million guilders is currently earmarked for the start of the Disaster Fund. By setting aside this amount, Government will secure another financial option for recovery following any disaster to handle its obligations without disrupting the regular operations.
A key priority as outlined in the Governing Program, is the stimulation of entrepreneurship and job creation, funds from the Trust Fund have been allocated for the Sint Maarten Enterprise Recovery Project. The Enterprise Recovery Project estimated to be in the area of US 35 Million dollars aims to support eligible Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises that have been impacted by Hurricane Irma last year, in accessing financial packages for asset replacement and working capital, through local financial institutions. A large percentage of businesses are unable to get financing from local commercial banks as they have collateral requirements they cannot meet. The Enterprise Recovery Project will provide, subject to a business plan that is acceptable to a local financial institution, financial packages for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in the form of a combination of grants and loans. The total number of assisted enterprises is projected to reach 300 in the first year and close to 600 in the fourth year.
The Solid Waste Management and Environmental Improvement Project which is estimated at US$35 million dollars aims to improve long-term waste management and environmental protection and will be informed by a forthcoming study on long-term solutions to sustainable solid waste. Its broader objective will be to implement key elements of the government’s long-term waste strategy and its Roadmap for Sustainable Waste Management.
Securing the financing for the reconstruction of the Airport Terminal Building continues to be of utmost importance. The objective of this Council of Ministers considering all the options, is to ensure that the best financing agreement be selected in the interest of the people of Sint Maarten for such an important project.
We intend to see the finalization of an Integrity Chamber for Sint Maarten and to show our maturity as leaders taking our country into a future where everyone prospers. We believe that Integrity and good governance are fundamental for the establishment of a proud and sustainable country.
With the goal of modernizing IT, implementing new technology and strengthening the government apparatus, this Council of Ministers has approved the start of an e Government Project that will help to improve the overall experience of accessing Government services in general.
As it pertains to International, Regional and Local relations, as Prime Minister I continue to promote cooperation with key stakeholders.
Firstly, with our brothers in the North, we continue to work on areas that are mutually beneficial to both sides such as disaster management and seeking funds that target cross border issues. High on the agenda will be the establishment of the United Congress an initiative of my counterpart President Daniel Gibbes.
Within the Dutch Kingdom we continue to work with all Partners to ensure that we are treated equally and fairly. In early 2019, a meeting is scheduled in Aruba amongst the Dutch Caribbean Countries to formalize areas of cooperation and to come to agreements that will benefit all involved. For example, a key area of cooperation is disaster management and establishing the individual roles of each Country and what can be expected in a time of crisis.
Regionally, the pursuit of Associate membership to CARICOM has taken a positive turn as such an acceleration of the process is expected. Associate Membership to CARICOM opens doors to many regional organizations and the positive services they can offer us here on Sint Maarten.
Internationally we continue to forge ties with key organizations via interactions with the World Bank and IMF that serve as platforms for possible investments to our island nation. As Sint Maarten rebuilds, its presence on the world stage continues to grow and this Government is keen to have its citizen’s benefit from these economic activities.
Now I take this time to remind you that, “Sint Maarten’s Recovery is not a sprint, it is a marathon”. We must remain committed to the goal and task at hand, of returning our country to its position as a leader in the Caribbean.
As I conclude my address, I wish you a Prosperous and Happy New Year 2019 and may God add his richest blessings on you and your family.