19 September 2011

Sint Maarten Parliament Opens 2011-2012 Session


St Martin News Network


Governor of St. Maarten delivers address to Parliament of Sint Maarten

Philipsburg:--- Several dignitaries including the members of the Constitutional Court, Ombudsman, Council of Ministers, Chamber of Commerce and senior civil servants were part of the crowd that attended the official opening of Parliament for the year 2011 - 2012. The Governor of St. Maarten Drs. Eugene Holiday delivered the Governors address shortly before the opening of the second year of Parliament. Governor Holiday also inspected the uniform troops which comprised of the St. Maarten Police, the St. Maarten Voluntary Corps and the Marines. Shortly after the official opening of Parliament, the dignitaries moved to Front Street to view the parade of the uniform troops after which they went to the Sheer restaurant for lunch. Below is the full address delivered by the Governor of St. Maarten Drs. Eugene Holiday.





Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Congratulations with the opening of the new parliamentary year.

Today marks the start of the second and first full, parliamentary year of Sint Maarten since becoming a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on October 10, 2010. As of that date, you have been entrusted with the significant responsibility to serve the general interest of the people of Sint Maarten. In the eleven months since my installation as Governor, I have had the privilege of meeting with people from all walks of life, committed to doing their part, dedicated to carrying their stone, towards helping build a stronger and better Sint Maarten.

My conversations with these persons have revalidated my conviction of the potential of this small and remarkable country of ours.

Through my discussions with these persons I have learned that, regardless of age or affiliation, people are looking to parliament and government to create an environment of opportunity, where everyone can receive an education, work, contribute and succeed in Sint Maarten. Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament, this is the basic reason for this gathering and the coming sessions of Parliament.

As we gather here today for the opening of the new parliamentary year I shall, in my capacity as Governor of Sint Maarten, present you with an outline of the policy plans of the government for the coming year. Policy plans placed within the context of the prevailing domestic constitutional and socio-economic setting and the global financial and economic climate.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

The course for Sint Maarten has been set with the accomplishment of country status on October 10, 2010. This is a course towards more self-reliance, more responsibilities and a broader mindset for our country.

Following a long quest to achieve and having some 11 months of experience with country status, it is clear that the road ahead is not an easy one.

In preparation for Country Sint Maarten, much attention was paid to the democratic foundation which is so necessary for our young nation. The price tag that comes with these democratic guarantees is high, but without them our country would be standing on shaky grounds. In preparation for country Sint Maarten our resources were pushed to their limits, but it did provide us the blueprint for a government organization worthy of our country.

Filing of all positions necessary to man this organization is now upon us, and it is clear that for the coming 12-18 months and maybe longer, all the additional human resources needed, will not be available to us. And if they are, it will be at a higher cost than if the pressure of time was not upon us.

The challenges associated with the price tag and financial framework, have been apparent with the balancing of the 2011 budget, which was approved less than two months ago. Given the limited available financial means the budget for 2012 will be the next challenge as government move to comply with its obligations to meet the needs and aspirations of the people of Sint Maarten. As such the coming year shall be a tough year, but by no means impossible!

Needless to say, that the much anticipated constitutional change has come at a time of major international financial and economic instability, as reflected in sluggish global economic performances and more recently in the downgrade of the US credit rating by Standard and Poors, one of the three reputable rating agencies, and as reflected in the ongoing debt crises in Europe. Sint Maarten has not been immune to these developments and continues to experience the impact of the protracted fragile global financial and economic conditions.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Many of government's policy plans will be tempered because of the domestic and global economic and financial realities of the day. None of the above however, will dampen the spirit of Moving Ahead as a country, responsible for our own destiny and that of our children.

Convinced that the constitutional change on October 10, 2010, is for the betterment of the people of this nation, government is determined despite the many challenges, to present and fulfill its vision of creating a foundation built on strength, compassion and decisiveness for Sint Maarten.

Country status has come at a time and a cost that calls for the old adage all hands on deck to become the clarion call to action for all who call Sint Maarten home.

As such Government invites you to be a participant in its considerations, dilemmas and solutions for Sint Maarten. Given that Sint Maarten has many challenges and a limited budget, making the correct choices will take courage. Choices as presented in government's policy plan called "A Foundation of Hope for our Country". Choices guided by the following focal points: social cohesion, sustainable economy, quality of life and a knowledge based society.

Appreciation for the little things that make us who we are is paramount, as we seek to bear out our culture for others to see and experience. It is the collective bearing out of that culture, day in, day out, that strengthens us and provides the social cohesion, so necessary for Moving Ahead as a country.

Government's plan therefore is to promote cultural development aimed at continuously strengthening Sint Maarten as "A nation of proud people, cognizant of our past and confident of our future, where communities work together to build the country Sint Maarten".

Thus as the government of country Sint Maarten takes definite shape, it is clear that the governance cycle must be one of delegated authority and accountability. Processes must be transparent internally and externally to the clients that government serves; namely the people of Sint Maarten.

Accountability and checks and balances are the bedrock of our democracy and anchored in our constitution and institutions. The Constitutional Court, the High Councils of State and the human rights catalog are guarantees of our democratic system.

Government in the building of these institutions and the respective ministries will make use of local expertise and manpower. In addition government shall where necessary to secure vital services, enter into service level agreements and use expatriate expertise as a means to build local and sustainable cadre.

Essential in that regard, is that the integrity program as developed, along with the legislation that supports it will continue. In doing so, government will place the emphasis on empowering workers, with the knowledge that an open, transparent, fair, and accountable government operation benefits all.

The success of government's governance approach will depend on the development and quality of the labor force. Education is paramount in that regard. The vision for education on Sint Maarten is predicated on the firm belief, that all citizens will acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, competencies and attitudes that will enable them to reach their highest human potential. Education will empower all citizens to participate and as a result promote and sustain a socio-economic climate that will move the island forward; Education will thus expand our island's competitive capacity within the context of its regional and global socio-economic position.

Government intends to create a new design for Education, which fully makes our citizens responsible for developing a new mentality, new attitudes, new levels of achievement and success within our education system. This means that the new system should fit our citizenry. The new system also is to promote a shared vision that includes best practices, national standards, community consciousness, curriculum changes, 21st century skills priorities and relevance. The new Education Plan shall emphasize the building of human capital through education. On the one hand, it must emphasize human resource development and national development and, on the other hand, it must foster individual and personal development anchored in pillars of trust, reciprocity and commitment.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Together with the new design for Education, it is the vision of government that national long term planning can no longer be postponed. A National Development Plan, a successor of the Multi Annual Policy Plan (MAPP) will therefore be undertaken post haste. This is no small undertaking as it will require broad private sector input and support.

Through the National Development Plan government shall continue to promote economic growth through investments in public programs and by creating an enabling environment for business development.

In that regard, government sees a market which promotes competition; a market where market forces compete fairly; a market in which clear rules and incentives for good corporate citizenship apply; and a market guided by government through dialogue and enabling legislation.

In developing the National Development Plan consideration will be given to the fact that our traditional stay-over tourism product, as the prime engine of growth, is a mature one; One where the need to encourage property owners to upgrade their properties is ever present. Moreover, more attention is warranted for the market of condominium development. Noteworthy in this context is that the cruise product continues to hold its own and has bridged the rather sluggish global economic conditions and its effects on the region. Additionally, other areas such as the marine trade industry continue to hold their own and demonstrate further growth potential.

To support its socio-economic development, it is essential that Sint Maarten invests in the maintenance of a durable, weather proven economic infrastructure comprised of adequate housing, a good road network, modern sea- and airports, adequate lighting, proper drainage and efficient waste disposal. Government has therefore embarked on the implementation of a road and drainage maintenance program. Notwithstanding the budgetary challenges, neighborhood development is a priority of government for this governing term. Several road infrastructure projects are currently under construction in the neighborhoods, which not only include improvements in the road network and street lighting, but also water drainage and sewerage lines. Moreover, garbage waste disposal improvement and furtherance of a modern waste disposal plant on Sint Maarten are under consideration.

The government has recently commissioned the project "Sint Maarten Housing Vision 2012-2017". The goal is to develop a 5-year policy plan for housing on Sint Maarten, with specific attention for lower and middle income categories. The project shall also address the legislation governing housing and the goal is to improve the overall quality of housing on Sint Maarten. This plan falls under the Social chapter of the Social Economic Initiative of the country.

In addition, government intends to pursue the creation of a development bank for Sint Maarten or have an institution serve as such by tapping into the available revenue streams. This becomes even more pressing, as traditional development aid from the Netherlands is being phased out. Associated with this idea is the creation of a financing agency for social programs, as a successor for Reda Social on Sint Maarten.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

As government invests in the economic infrastructure, it is cognizant that the environmental health of our country is a delicate one. A "green" vision of government for sustainability is therefore one of careful balancing. Actions on different fronts support this endeavor. The zoning of the island has taken on renewed impetus, and the management of waste water and refuse is a top priority. With SLAC's commitment to an improved management of the Simpson bay Lagoon and the imminent clean-up of the Great Salt Pond, these two vital water areas will be given new breath. Moreover government supports and encourages the use of alternative energy sources!

Community Development encompasses a broad area of operation with the overarching aim to facilitate developments that will enhance the lives of the people and the communities by means of social empowerment and district improvement. As such, government plans to achieve Community Development using an integrated neighborhood development approach (INDP) by working in close collaboration with relevant stakeholders. Stakeholders include, but is not limited to Community Councils, NGOs, representation of various groups, (such as the Elderly and Disabled) and the socially deprived (such as the homeless and addicts). This holistic approach not only improves the physical environment but also enhances the position of the people living in the communities.

As government pursues enhancing the position of people living in the communities, special attention will be given to eliminating gender inequalities through the empowerment of women. In that regard, empowerment of women is not only about combating violence against women, but also addressing the more subtle forms of inequality and discrimination in areas such as wages and governmental representation.

With the borrowed phrase: "A community is strongest when the care for its weakest is constant and deliberate" in mind, the government of Sint Maarten is cognizant of its work in the areas as outlined in the "Millennium Development Goals" as adopted in 2000. The first report regarding attainment of these goals as presented in 2011 serves as a basis for strategic policy objectives in the coming 4 years.

With respect to youth unemployment, which in government's view must be reduced drastically, training and schooling is paramount. The secondary vocational education (SBO) programs are already bearing fruit and thus the construction of a school for this type of education, is part of government's 2011 year program. Together with training programs, incentives can contribute to government's goal of reducing unemployment to between 5 and 7 %.

Further, it is essential to have established and to maintain adequate sport facilities. However, in addition to this action, there is the need to promote awareness and guidance in regards to regular physical activity and education, to ensure a healthy and vibrant community. Physical activity must in that regard become a "national sport". Thus as Sint Maarten looks forward to hosting the 2013 Kingdom games, a renewed impetus is being given to sport facilities' upgrades. Slowly, but surely, Sint Maarten athletes are beginning to make a name for themselves abroad, a development that Government is keen on nurturing through a close working relationship with sports organizations. This will be evident in the Sports Policy, currently a topic for discussion in sports circles.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

While we emphasize the importance of education in creating an environment of opportunity for all, where people can be self-reliant we must be mindful of the need to provide an adequate social safety net.

It should come as no surprise that the social infrastructure of Sint Maarten lags behind the social needs. In as far as we do have (basic) social infrastructures, the level needs serious improvement. The general old age pension and sickness insurances and benefits are services that need to be adjusted to the demands of our developing society.

Therefore government is pursuing the establishment of social systems, which over time will offer a basic level of social security to all citizens. Sustainability, solidarity and affordability are key components of this vision. Revision of the systems and addressing parties' responsibilities within the system to promote better cost control and savings is crucial for the sustainability of the systems.

The transformation of the present old age pension system into a comprehensive and sustainable pension system will be studied and prepared during this and the coming year.

The government is, in addition pursuing the introduction of a new national health insurance program.

Consistent with the aim of a sustainable safety net system, additional measures are warranted for collective health care and prevention. Programs for promotion of healthy lifestyles will be continued. And social services shall be reviewed with the aim to make them more accessible, transparent and fair.

In conjunction, the government is committed to make combating of poverty a structural program, by combining different elements and reaching across ministries. In this regard, closer collaboration with NGO's is a conditio sine qua non to reach government's goal of a measurable reduction in poverty.

Hence the social financial aid system will be reviewed and revised. These social safety nets need to be accessible to those who do not have other resources or means. More emphasis will be on the prevention of poverty; self-empowerment and the importance of individual and social responsibility in society.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

As we invest in the education of and in a more healthy population, towards the realization of our full potential as a country, a sense of peace and safety for residents and visitors is critical. Government's objective is to fight for a crime-free Sint Maarten, where law enforcement exudes confidence and citizens consider it their social duty to do their part in fighting crime. Crime against any resident or visitor is a crime against Sint Maarten. In accordance with the "Plan of Approach of the Police of Force Sint Maarten", the police force will focus on recruitment and training of officers. Several new approaches have been undertaken to urgently boost the recruitment of police officers. In addition, given the target for the ultimate strength of 390 officers, the police force will be held to the commitment to reach the minimum strength as defined in the Kingdom Resolution.

To support the fight against crime and to promote the feeling of safety amongst the residents of Sint Maarten, the government shall promote second-chance education, foster care, youth facilities development and re-socialization efforts.

In accordance with the "Plan of Approach of the New Immigration Organization", the set-up of this entity is in progress. The process of setting up the new entity includes the recruitment and training of personnel, to strengthen the organization. Important factors in the process will be the creation of (new) policies in regard to admittance.

With the authority for work permits and immigration in the hands of the government of Sint Maarten, synchronization of policies is a must. This means, amongst others, that the government will take measures to deal with the consequences of the implementation of the Brooks Tower Accord.

Additionally, the government believes that there are possibilities for new investment niches on Sint Maarten. As a result, certain policies in the area of the establishment of businesses and persons must be reviewed to tap into hitherto un-researched areas of growth.

A new labor policy will focus on regulating the labor market with better control on compliance with labor laws, especially where labor conditions, premium and tax payments and wages are concerned.

Further the current work permit policy is under review; this based on the need to streamline processes and re-institute tripartite dialogue regarding reform of labor laws.

As government pursues its policy plans it shall broaden its scope as made possible by the constitutional change. Sint Maarten can now diligently pursue regional cooperation and has undertaken several steps to this effect. New relationships and engagements have and are taking place with UNDP, UNESCO, CFATF, CIAT, COTA and CARICOM, while functional cooperation in tax information exchanges and mutual assistance in tax matters is ongoing. Sint Maarten needs to expand its horizons in terms of assistance, as we set about to build a strong foundation for our country. With due consideration for the Dutch Kingdom's coordinating role for foreign relations, Sint Maarten needs the space to develop its own foreign policy. As an Overseas Country of the European Union, Sint Maarten's participation in agencies such as OCTA is desirable and necessary, this also in light of the approaching new development agreement with the EU.

In furthering the dialogue on the future of the Dutch Kingdom, the focus for Sint Maarten will be on the economic and financial relationships within the Kingdom, on a relationship based on respect and free will. Recent times have been dominated by political discussions that have muddled the political realities of the Kingdom comprised of 4 countries forming a voluntary association.

Staying in the Kingdom, it is noteworthy that the organization of the Central Bank of Curacao and Sint Maarten has suffered some serious setbacks. For Sint Maarten, this meant that the envisaged full-fledged Central Bank branch on Sint Maarten has not materialized to date and that no further joint action on a joint currency has been undertaken. Given the rocky start of this joint institution, the government of Sint Maarten is of the belief that a separate monetary agency for Sint Maarten must be given serious consideration. The scope and form of this agency (central bank) will be dependent on the ultimate choice by Sint Maarten for its currency. In the meantime, arrangements will be made with Curacao for the continued use of the Netherlands Antillean currency, pegged to the US dollar as is presently the case. It is recommended that this arrangement be upheld for the year 2012, to allow for the Sint Maarten branch of the Central Bank to take root and for a careful analysis of the available choices of currency.

Madam Chairlady, members of Parliament

The implementation of these policy plans will come at a cost, costs which will have to be managed efficiently. St. Maarten is currently working on obtaining a sovereign rating to facilitate lowering some of these costs if borrowing is done in Capital markets. The extent and speed of implementation of these policy measures depends in large part on the available financial resources. Getting the right financial fit for country Sint Maarten, after decades of co-management with the Netherlands Antilles will take time, creativity and crafting and re-crafting. The neglect of the past needs to be undone and new challenges will have to be met head-on. The redrafted 2011 budget has gotten closer to this ideal, however there is still much more work to be done. This work continues to be done within the framework of the financial agreements of the constitutional reforms.

The tax system will be overhauled within the next 18 months. Non-disputable elements of this overhaul are: simplification, fairness, efficiency, stability and feasibility. Upgrading the tax administration however, is an ongoing project. The first results will be the inclusion of all tax payers in the tax system. To achieve this, data bases of for example the Chamber of Commerce and that of the Civil Registry should be synchronized or at least accessible for the tax office, and ultimately should result in one general registration number/code for residents and businesses. The project "Improvement Data Management By Government Agencies" has been launched with this objective in mind. 

It is the intention of government to extend this data management process to other government departments as well. This alone will considerably improve government's income and will provide better insight for the bases of tax reforms. Serious consideration will be given to the current turn-over-tax in this review. While the TOT is good for government's coffers, its effects on the economy need to be analyzed. But mostly, our tax system needs to have those elements built-in that provides a low threshold, both in terms of the complexity as well as in competiveness; Thus improving the tax payers' attitude towards taxes in general.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

With the outlined vision and policy measures the government plans to create hope and opportunity for all residents of Sint Maarten based on a sound national, social and economic foundation. Cognizant that it cannot accomplish this alone, the government invites all to participate in the execution and pursuit of its vision for a better and stronger Sint Maarten.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

The government looks to you as political representatives of the people of Sint Maarten for your participation and your support in achieving this vision for the coming period in the interest of the people of Sint Maarten. I wish you much wisdom, strength, and God's speed.

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