Government presents Working for the People-program: Island to become the wellness center of the Caribbean

POSTED: 01/17/13 12:23 PM
Governor Eugène Holiday, Chairman of Parliament Rodolphe Samuel, former Lt Governor Mathias Voges, Vice-chair of the Advisory Council Mavis Brooks-Salmon, and Ombudsman Dr Nilda Arduin pay rapt attention during the presentations. Photo Today / Milton Pieters

St. Maarten – A sewage treatment plant for the Cay Bay and Cole Bay districts, an International Convention Centre at the Harbour, an internal control department, attracting four 5-star hotels, an aquaculture farm, St. Maarten’s own airline and making the island, the “wellness centre of the Caribbean,” were among some of the highlights of the current administration’s governing program.

The cricket stadium and the drag strip are still on the agenda, perhaps at a different location and the Justice Park will now have two locations; Cay Hill and Sucker Garden. However the Monument Council and the Gaming Control Board still remain elusive. If the government sticks to its promises, then the latter part of 2013 and the election year; 2014 should see massive island-wide infrastructural development.

Without much fanfare the eagerly anticipated governing program called Working for the People was unveiled yesterday at the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort and Casino. The long overdue document was printed in limited supply (for an environmentally conscious administration) but was available in CD form and distributed to stakeholders from all branches of government, the judiciary, the donor community and civil society.  The presentations that the seven government ministers made did not offer many surprises in terms of projected plans; and gave snapshots of the work that is already in progress since the National Alliance/Democratic Party/Independent 3 coalition took over the reins of government on May 21 of last year. The program period spans 2012 to 2014, but when it came time for ministerial explanations, several ministers indicated that with work still in the preparatory phases, some projects will implemented in 2015 and beyond.  They promised to follow up with lists that would indicate exactly what project individual ministries would undertake. There was a strong emphasis on individual and community development that would mushroom into national development. Improvements in education, infrastructure, district improvement and housing, healthcare and social welfare, economy and environment, safety and security are the hallmarks of the program. It was clear that the government would have to be very resourceful or attract more foreign direct investment to be able to carry out most of its plans in these areas, with the door on debt relief now closed.

“Any expectations of financial support for the new countries have been dashed. Stronger yet, the plans for the termination of Dutch development aid 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 of keeping its most important economic pillar vibrant; seeking new complimentary industries and establishing an enabling social environment and social safety nets for those segments of the population, that need such,” the program reads.

 

Ministry of VROMI

Deputy Prime Minister William with responsibility for VROMI started off the presentation indicating that it was the goal of his ministry to provide each resident with access to clean, safe and affordable housing as a means of combating poverty and relieving those who have to pay rent.

All ministers have a role to play for us to reach this goal,” Marlin said. He spoke of the eradication of shanty towns with emphasis on public-private partnership and the ongoing construction of 2 and 3 bedrooms homes for young professionals; the proceeds of which will go towards funding social homes. As he had announced previously, Marlin said that 24 additional senior homes in Belvedere would be constructed in Belvedere which would cost the elderly no more than $50.00 per month.

“Faced with the reality of practically no remaining domain land, the government has to concentrate on buying land and or co-developing land in cases where persons are not financially able to develop their properties,” Marlin said.

Zoning

“It is becoming more urgent that government revisits the type of development its desires and designates certain areas for that purpose,” Marlin said while speaking on his ministry’s zoning plans.

In what came as a surprise Marlin stated that zoning plans were still being presented in the districts although those plans were put on hold a few months ago when he was summoned to Parliament.

He stated that all zoning plans will be covered by law by next year.

Environment

“Government still remains committed to purchasing of the Emilio Wilson Estate. Management will then be given to existing organizations which will come together and jointly look into the operation of this area,” he added.

While no mention was made of the still-to-be established Monument Council in Marlin’s address, a concise sentence in the governing program alluded to it.

“While government takes steps towards the establishment of the Monument Council to manage our monuments, in the absence of such, ad hoc committees will sit in for the Council.”

 

The outcome of the community needs assessment report paints a “stark picture” of the state of the ten districts, the minister said.

There have too many complaints of running sewerage on the roadways and the associating stench. This will soon be a thing of the past, Marlin said.

Additionally, a study will soon be commissioned for the setting up of a sewerage treatment plant in the Cay Bay/Cole Bay area.

Contract negotiations will be finalized for the waste to energy plant with no investment from government, Marlin promised.

Solar Energy Project Starts at Library This Month

By the end of this month solar panels will be installed at the library as part of the government’s new energy policy that promotes among other things the use of LED lights at all government buildings.

“These alternative energy sources will be financed or could finance themselves while making reliance on heavy fuel much less and most importantly the cost of electricity to the consumer will go down.”

Comprehensive road network plan

By next year Link 6 which goes from Dutch Quarter/Belvedere areas to Weymouth Hill as well as Link 2 will be realized while the Ring Road will be completed.

“The government is still researching the realization of one or two tunnels,” Marlin said. Tolls that will be charged by project partners will pay the costs of the projects, he indicated.

 

Ministry of Justice

True to form, Minister of Justice Roland Duncan didn’t beat around the bush in stating that the governing program, although full of beautiful words, does not solidly identify the projects of his ministry. He intends to submit a specific list of projects, before the end of February, which the Ministry of Justice will be executing.

The Ministry of Justice is the most dynamic ministry and the changes it proposes are not always met with approval by the public, Duncan stated.

He identified inadequate cell space for detainees as one of the biggest problems his ministry currently faces, adding that since St. Maarten does not possess the facilities to fulfill its Constitutional requirements, “we have to build and we have to buy.”

With the current police headquarters on E.C Richardson Street being over 30 years old, it is in need of urgent repairs, the minister explained.

The government has secured a property in Sucker Garden where several police facilities will be moved to. A training academy, two shooting ranges, a gym and classrooms will also be at the location.

“That is the first part of the Justice Park, it is not in Cay Hill but in Sucker Garden,” Duncan said.

Injecting some humor into his address, Duncan clarified that the park is still the Justice Park and not Jurassic Park as is being touted in several sections of society. The 100 million plus venture will be made a reality, the minister assured.

“The park is the concentration of facilities to meet the lofty goals that we have set ourselves in the constitution in the organization and legislation of government.”

In the meantime, the kitchen at the Pointe Blanche House of Detention is 25 years old is also being considered for repairs.

Immigration and Integration

The minister explained that locals and foreigners, alike will have to learn to peacefully and comfortably exist on the island.

Most of the new guidelines for his immigration policy are covered under European law and international declarations, so they are applicable in St. Maarten.

“That puts us in the position to appear lenient towards foreigners,” Duncan said.

While revealing that tomorrow a major announcement will be made with regard to the first set of controls that will be conducted by the Ministries of Justice and Labour, Duncan stated that the government’s stance on immigration is clear. This was outlined in the governing program.

“Integration of persons living and working legally on the island for a long time is currently one of government’s focal points within the Immigration Service. Government has eased certain restrictions that have hampered progress in this area for some time. These include lowering the total household income requirement commensurate with the cost of living and a change in permanent residence eligibility. Another measure taken by government in this regard is the reintroduction of the partnership agreement in keeping with current family situations not only on St. Maarten, but worldwide.

These policy changes will not only ease the burden on residents who have called St. Maarten their home for many years, but also ease the administrative strain the immigration organization faces due to bureaucratic and outdated processes. With these modifications counterbalancing any negative side-effects will be critical. Stricter enforcement of admission and expulsion regulations will come to the forefront. Stricter border control will also be exercised, in particular with the addition of a mobile surveillance unit to patrol communities. Technology will also play an instrumental role in improving current immigration regulations and control, as all systems at our ports of entry will be upgraded. A greater emphasis on control and law enforcement, in order to better serve the community, will make St. Maarten a more progressive and secure place for all residents.”

Fees for residence permits will be implemented so that his ministry has the money it needs to execute its programs, Duncan maintains.

The name of the Immigration and Naturalization Service will be also changed to the Immigration and Border Control Agency.

He described the introduction of community policing as “reasonably successful” thus far.

Gun Policy

“We formulated a gun policy that created a lot of discussion here but it pleases us to know that much of those things we covered in our gun policy are now being debated by the biggest and most powerful country in the world.”

“In St. Maarten there is no right to bear arms for the citizen.”

The right to bear arms is for agents of the State that have been legally permitted to do so, Duncan said.

His ministry will also focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners and stamping out youth criminality. A comprehensive plan to this effect will be presented to Parliament soon, the minister noted.

Financial Intelligence Unit (MOT)

“It is new and intrusive but considered necessary to protect the society against more types of crime,” Duncan said.

“Crime, associated with money laundering and fraud over time has the potential to devastate St. Maarten’s economy and community. Government will, through the Financial Intelligence Unit (MOT), report unusual transactions in compliance with the rules of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The FATF is an international and intergovernmental body, which aims to set standards and encourage effective execution of legal, regulatory and operational measures for fighting money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system,” the governing programme reads.

Ministry of Finance

“Government is determined to enhance St. Maarten’s financial situation by improving the functioning of the Tax Authority and rendering it more effective and efficient in the execution of its tasks. This will be accomplished through implementing a revised tax system that is fair, simple, competitive and economically sound for businesses and individuals alike. Government will also ensure that all necessary laws and regulations, as it pertains to Financial Management are in place,” the governing programme indicates.

In the same vein of improvements in the functioning of tax authority, Minister Roland Tuitt said that the tax registry is being updated and cleaned up, resulting in many old debts being cleared away and a reduction in errors.

Tuitt made reference to the new tax system, part of which has already been implemented such as changes to the vehicle tax ordinance.

“The first phase of the overhaul, which is planned to go into effect in 2013, will result in providing direct financial relief and more spending power to those citizens who earn a maximum of 5000 guilders per month. A complete proposal with all the different options to achieve this is being prepared by the Department of Fiscal Affairs for handling by the Council of Ministers and Parliament.

The next phase is scheduled to go into effect in 2014. The IT systems in government will be improved, linked, and streamlined in order to make it possible to pay taxes and apply for certain permits online. Furthermore, linking different databases in and outside of government will make the application procedures much shorter and easier,” the governing programme reads.

“All of these objectives cannot be achieved without having the technical infrastructure in place,” Tuitt said.

The upgrading and streamlining of Information Communication Technologies within the Ministry of Finance will take place next month, the minister said.

Now that St. Maarten has met the OECD standards it will be more attractive to investors, Tuitt stated.  Along with its favorable (AA1) rating from Moody’ rating agency, the island is poised to

Budgetary Matters

“Improvements are ongoing in close consultation with the CFT, plans are being worked out to enhance the personnel capacity within the Ministry so that it can meet the deadlines and live up to all the requirements that are under the financial supervision legislation,” Tuitt said.

He will also seek to initiate more dialogue and consultation with the Dutch government to get more issues resolved, before they become a roadblock.  This is expected to start within this first quarter, the minister said.

A staff member has also been placed at the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten to set up the treasury department while another individual will be contracted by government to assist in setting up of the internal control department.

“This will be made a reality soon,” Tuitt said, since it is one of the important tools for checks and balances in government.

On the matter of the Central Bank, the minister said that the new government of Curacao has been very cooperative and he hopes to have an agreement on the outstanding currency issues.

Tuitt too said that “a strategic plan is being worked on and we hope too present that in the near future.”

Ministry of Education

The Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Silveria Jacobs did not provide any new information in her address, opting instead to re-read the address that she had given to Parliament last year on her ministry’s objectives, visions and projects.

Jacobs said that her ministry will continue to promote a culture of learning, ensure that the quality of education and educators is enforced through legislation and create a workforce that is competitive and competent in technical and vocational areas.

The minister plans to set up a career choice centre in the Student Support Division and promote a partnership between the St. Eustatius Medical School and the University of St. Martin for a Bachelors of Medicine program.

The construction of the SBO School in Cay Hill, the promotion of ICTs in the all classroom, capacity building, the introduction of the Education Management Information System and community schools, as well as the implementation of a discipline policy in collaboration with the business community, were also other areas cited by the minister.

Culture

She commended the governor for a successfully held symposium and spoke of the establishment, referred to the establishment of the national archives and an increase in cultural programs that would highlight the identity of the St. Martiner.

A youth and culture summit will be held soon, the minister said.

To get the youth more engaged, the ministry hopes to implement a business outreach program, as well as social reform and apprenticeship programs.

The integrated sports policy framework is still being drafted, the minister said and her ministry will build up and upgrade sports facilities on the island.

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