the Governor's Speeches

Back to Speeches Indexsep 08, 2015

Governor's Address 2015



Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

I herewith congratulate the people of Sint Maarten and the members of Parliament on the opening of the 2015-2016 Parliamentary year. As prescribed in our constitution this annual recurring event, held on the second Tuesday of September, marks the beginning of a new political year where as Governor, I present you and the people of Sint Maarten with an outline of the policy plans of the government for the coming year. This constitutional act as such represents an act of projection, an act of accountability and an act of transparency.

In just over one month, on October 10, 2015, we will celebrate Sint Maarten’s fifth anniversary as a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. As we approach this lustrum celebration, I invite all Sint Maarteners to reflect and to project. And in doing so, I encourage all Sint Maarteners to imagine ways to build a better and brighter St. Maarten for our and future generations. I believe that to achieve that, that we the people of Sint Maarten must work together: to strengthen families, to nurture  and educate our children, to increase community engagement, and to grow the general interest.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,
Together with government, you have been entrusted with a profound responsibility to serve the public interest on behalf of all Sint Maarteners. Thus as we look ahead I trust that you will carry that responsibility in concert with government to address the variety of challenges our country faces today.

Challenges due - in part - to our changing demographic landscape. Our population is ageing and people are living longer. There is an increasing number of single parent households and an associated increase in the number of lower income families. Attention is therefore needed to safeguard and promote equality, social inclusion and social cohesion as well as to facilitate the necessary support mechanisms. This is especially the case for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, the disabled, youths and migrants.  This in the face of moderate economic growth, tight budgetary conditions and an increasingly competitive regional and global tourist economy.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

The Government has, based on its assessment of the issues faced by our nation, outlined its policy plans for the coming year. These plans are anchored in the Governing Program 2014 – 2018, entitled “Ready to work for you”.

The objective of government’s policy agenda is to improve the quality of life of the people of St. Maarten. That through measures to stimulate sustainable development and economic growth.

Government’s point of departure in seeking to realize its objectives is the continued adherence to the principles of good governance through effective representation, greater transparency, improved accountability and stronger fiscal discipline.

As a result government aims to create awareness and to motivate the general public; that through the completion of a National Development Plan with priorities in the short and in the medium to long term. Through the National Development Plan government intends to establish a shared national vision by working with and taking into account the aspirations of all stakeholders.

Having a national development plan is important. However, an implementation strategy is needed to strengthen national planning and to ensure that development objectives succeed. Essential components of government’s implementation strategy are (1) that its evidenced-driven “strategy for growth” development projects are results-based and (2) that these projects take place in a sound governance system.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Central to the implementation of government’s policy plans is the strengthening of the civil service to provide effective and efficient services for the people. Much has been done over the years, but improvement and re-development are concepts that are always on the move. Essential in that regard are:
• First, establishing standards, increased use of technology, and data synchronization, aimed at reducing redundancy and bureaucracy;
• Second, strengthening legal capacity through recruitment and a partnership with the Legislative Academy in the Netherlands to improve the legislative process;
• Third, the creation of incentives in support of the “Brain Gain” activities;
• And fourth, the further enhancement of the public service center formula based on the one-stop service provider concept.

Government’s efforts to strengthen its administrative capacity will - to be successful in meeting the needs of the people - go hand in hand with initiatives to strengthen national identity, participation and capacity. In that context government will take steps to implement a number of cultural programs. These include:
1) Development of national cultural awareness campaigns to teach citizens about the culture of Sint Maarten, along with support of existing efforts by local cultural organizations;
2) Supporting of programs that create  opportunity for talented young artists to contribute to the development of the creative industries;
3) Investing in the national cultural infrastructure by building a Center for the performing arts, a National Library, a National Art Gallery, a National Museum and an Archaeological Center to develop, showcase, record, protect, and preserve Sint Maarten’s cultural heritage;
4) The preservation of and support for our national monuments; and
5) The development, revision and establishment of the requisite legislation to regulate these programs.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Integrity of government has been and continues to be at the forefront of the national debate. Addressing these issues is therefore essential. Government is committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the four integrity reports, that were published recently. Based on the recommendations, the national ordinance regulating the introduction of the integrity chamber has recently been presented to and approved by you and subsequently ratified. The implementation of the ordinance is one of the priorities of government. In addition, draft laws are being prepared to adjust existing legislation and where necessary to introduce executive regulations of the existing laws.  The project bureau integrity, as was established last year, is charged with the coordination of the execution of the recommendations.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

With the focus on improving the quality of life, government’s education, youth and sports policies will focus on providing quality opportunities for all, with lifelong learning and career development. In 2016 government through its education, youth and sports policies will place special emphasis on continuous personal development, on capacity building and on standards and organizational reforms.

Government will therefore guide, partner and support the further strengthening of educational institutions offering secondary vocational education and tertiary education, namely NIPA and USM. Government will as a result present Parliament with (1) the Study Finance Ordinance, (2) the Higher Education Ordinance, (3) revisions to the Foundation Based Education ordinance and (4) amendments to the Secondary Education Ordinance, during the 2015-2016 parliamentary year.

With respect to secondary education government will continue adapting Secondary Examination requirements to maintain the equivalency of diplomas within the Kingdom.  Plans also include the introduction of higher standards within Vocational Education to ensure that all students leaving secondary education possess the skills required for continued education or to join the labor market on their way to becoming independent responsible adult citizens. Government considers vocational education a key in the future of our economy. As a result innovative strategies for learning will be sought and implemented. This to ensure that students remain engaged in further lifelong learning to enhance their position in the labor market, decrease youth unemployment and build resilience that contribute to our youth reaching their full potential.

Within Public Education, initiatives such as the extension of the school day will be introduced as a strategy to enhance student performance. Government will also establish one public school as a Dutch primary school.  These initiatives will be supported by the establishment of a Summer School Program, a “One Tablet per child program”, a Comprehensive National Early Childhood Development Policy and an After School Care Policy.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,
Government’s 2016 objectives are to ensure the continuity of Sports Development on Sint Maarten as part of its quality of life vision. The focus remains on the further development of National talent, National Teams and National facilities. Government will to that end through its sports awareness campaign and the establishment of a national sports institute continue to work at partnering with schools and the various sporting governing bodies.

An area of concern however, is the number of at risk youths. The strengthening of prevention programs is as a result an essential policy strategy, to curb and ensure that the number of at risk youths does not continue to rise.

In the context of the social environment we must safeguard our youth against poverty, drug abuse, unemployment and human rights violation. The Court of Guardianship has, in this context, recently activated a child abuse alarm center.

In the context of the economic environment, youths must be prepared and given the opportunity to contribute as employees or productive citizens within the society.  Government’s emphasis will be placed on an interdisciplinary strategy to identify at risk youths and generate support mechanism to cater to their needs.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,
Government will in addition move to realize essential reforms to the social safety net systems such as healthcare programs, government welfare provisions, and pension schemes to safeguard their accessibility and sustainability.

With people living longer government is in the process of introducing reforms to increase the participation of the elderly and secure the financial sustainability of support systems. Government plans to work with Parliament to introduce the draft legislation to increase the old age pension and to increase the pension age from 60 to 62 by the end of this year. Moreover government is reviewing the feasibility of a compulsory pension system.

In the area of health care government’s emphasis is on managing health care costs and securing quality service. This by promoting public and private investments in preventive measures through the encouragement of healthy life styles and reducing medical measures and costs. That with a focus on reducing the number of persons suffering from prevalent illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

In the area of the labor market government’s objective is to decrease unemployment and to increase labor productivity. To complement its education and training policies  to prepare youths for the job market, government’s labor policies focus is on providing frameworks that encourage employers:
• to take more responsibility for risk prevention in the workplace;
• to promote good occupational safety and health conditions; and
• to foster improved industrial relations.
As a result government is in the process of pursuing labor market reforms in the area of
1) short term labor contracts;
2) the counterpart policy;
3) occupational safety and health policy; and
4) enforcement of existing laws to promote fair business practices.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Government to comply with its objectives and responsibilities, shall take measures to safeguard and improve the living environment and conditions of our citizens. Important programs in this regard are:
a. First, the review and update of the public housing policy aimed at providing affordable housing;
b. Second, the continuation of work on zoning plans directed at realizing greater control on the spatial development of our island; and
c. Third, continued investment in the expansion of the sewage treatment facilities within the various districts.

Moreover, located in the north eastern Caribbean, hurricane preparedness is key for our island.  As a result it is a priority of government to ensure the safety of residents and visitors by investing in the disaster preparedness infrastructure of our island. As a result government intends to introduce revised legislation that focusses on the quality of the construction of buildings and structures and to develop a storm water drainage and management plan.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Safety and security is key to the quality of life of our citizens. Recent developments in violent crime and the murder of police officer Benjamin in the line of duty is cause for grave concern. It is government’s policy to put safety and security first.

In line with its safety and security first policy government has decided to deploy a country wide security camera system to help fight crime and to realize a more effective and efficient logistical use of police resources on patrols as well as ambulance services. The preparations to implement this measure are in their final stages.

The security camera program will complement the community police program which has proven to be successful. Moreover, a new police sub-station was opened in the Maho area, while plans for another sub-station in the St. Peters area are being prepared.

In addition, government is continuing to invest in the training and development of law enforcement officers. A board for the Justice Academy comprised of the representatives of the law enforcement services has been installed. And a complete new program for basic and further training and education as well as certification of officers is in its final stages of development. At the same time plans for the purchasing of property to establish a new state of the art shooting range, operational training and logistical center, as well as a forensic laboratory for the police force, have already been worked out and are nearing completion.

Moreover, government has introduced a new comprehensive justice information system with the Court of Guardianship functioning as a successful pilot. Meanwhile information systems for the Prison, Customs, Probation Services, Youth Detention Center and Immigration are ready for installation for use in combatting crime.

And finally in the area of law enforcement, the renovation of the present prison has been finalized and concrete measures to increase the security around and in the prison at Pointe Blanche will be implemented by the end of this year. Additionally plans for the expansion of the prison are ready for implementation.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

The realization of government’s policies is dependent on favorable economic developments. As a result government’s economic policy agenda will be geared at facilitating sustainable economic growth and development within its coordinated “Strategy for Growth”. Central aspects of government’s economic agenda are the enhancement of  service, the creation of jobs and economic diversification. To pursue its economic agenda government intends to make use of the following policy instruments:
1) maintain reporting on key economic and social indicators;
2) establish a tourism authority;
3) strengthen its marketing efforts;
4) reinforce product development through tourism awareness programs, service level training, and the cruise conversion program;
5) promotion of private investments to complement public sector investments;
6) introduce legislative and policy reforms supportive of services to foster Small and Medium Enterprises; and
7) establish a national Civil Aviation and Shipping Registry.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,
Essential to Sint Maarten’s development as a small open economy is the maintenance of good external relations.

On a Kingdom level government will continue to work at partnering with other members in Kingdom. Key areas of cooperation are law enforcement, central banking, and dispute regulation.

The joint cooperation teams of the police, royal military police, customs and immigration and border protection services are proving to be effective. Recently successful operations have been carried out in the area of human smuggling and trafficking leading to the arrest of several perpetrators.

The functioning of the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten continues to be a point of attention and discussion with the government of Curaçao. Government is at the same time also working towards the renovation of the existing facilities and the transformation of the local office into a full-fledged branch. This in addition to plans to pursue the construction of a new building.

In fostering good relations, Government will host a tripartite meeting with the prime ministers of Aruba and Curaçao, in November of this year. And next year Government will host the fourth Kingdom Conference.

Considering the tensions between the Kingdom partners related to the discussions regarding the instructions by the Kingdom Council of Ministers, Government is a strong advocate of the introduction of an independent Kingdom dispute institution. Government considers an institution like this necessary to build trust and strengthen ties between the Kingdom partners.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

On a foreign relations level, government considers cooperation on a regional and international level important to support its domestic agenda. As such government will continue to work at maintaining good relations with its regional and international partners. Government’s objective in this regard is to continue to develop closer ties with Saint-Martin. This through an efficient cooperation structure to address issues of mutual concern. In particular, Government as part of its safety and security first policy, will work closely with its Saint Martin counterparts on the implementation of the recently ratified Treaty on Police Cooperation in the fight against crime.

As a young country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands Sint Maarten intends to present itself in the region and at international fora to protect and promote St. Maarten’s national interests abroad. This will be realized through bilateral partnerships with regional partners and participation in international organizations.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

To cover the costs of government’s policy agenda it is essential to generate additional revenues. This to ensure compliance with provisions of the national ordinance for government accounts as well as with the criteria of the Kingdom Law on financial supervision.  In that respect government has in an effort to generate funds developed a Strategy for Growth as part of its policy agenda. The objectives of this strategy are:
1) to promote economic growth as outlined aimed at providing a stable long term financial basis for increased government revenues; and
2) to organize the tax system to improve the levying and collection  taxes with a focus on addressing tax arrears in the short term.

To support these actions and generate needed additional funds government shall implement measures:
• to control and clean-up the tax registry;
• to accelerate the collection of  tax arrears and the handling of complaints;
• to improve tax compliance; and
• to reform the tax system starting with the wage, income and profit taxes.

In addition, government to support its national development plans, shall seek external funding from potential donors such as the European Union, the International Labour Organization as well as the World Health Organisation and the Pan American Health Organization. This where possible in  collaboration with French and British territories.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Government in keeping with its governing program “Ready to work for you” is committed to delivering its policy agenda to improve the quality of life of the people of Sint Maarten.

In this new parliamentary year, government will therefore present 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 to serve the public interest on behalf of the people of Sint Maarten.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,
Thus, as you deliberate and decide on the issues that will come before you in the period ahead, I wish you much wisdom, strength, and God’s speed.

Thank you, God Bless you and God Bless our Beloved Sint Maarten.