Today Newspaper St. Maarten The daily newspaper for Country St. Maarten Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:26:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Political panel discussion at the Academy tomorrow Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:26:11 +0000 St.maarten – St. Maarten Academy’s academic campus hosts a panel discussion tomorrow with representatives of political parties and high school students in the run-up to parliamentary elections.

The event takes place under the theme "Generation Hope; Our Future Leaders" and will see an interactive discussion among the party representatives and students from the host school, Charlotte Brookson Academy, MAC Comprehensive High School, St. Dominic High, Milton Peters College and Sundial.

Panelists confirmed for the event are Marinka Gumbs (Democratic Party DP), Mercedes van der Waals-Wyatt (Helping Our People Excel), Cedric Peterson (National Alliance), Benjamin Bell (Sint Maarten Christian Party), Terrance Frederick (St. Maarten Development Movement), Tatiana Arrindell (United People’s party) and Romain Laville (United St. Maarten party).

Coordinator Kim Lucas-Felix says that the panel discussion is aimed at engaging students in matters that affect them. Since the target population is senior high school students (Forms 4 – 6), they will also be discussing topics that are covered in their Social Sciences curriculum both at the CSEC and CAPE levels. These include issues like education, health care, employment, the brain-drain, crime, and economic diversification.

“As educators, we have a civic responsibility in shaping an educated electorate, our future leaders. Additionally, our youth should not be passive participants in matters that affect them,” Lucas-Felix stated.

The two-hour session runs from 12 noon until 2 p.m. at the Academy’s academic campus and will be moderated by Distinguished Toastmaster Amanda Bedminister-Vital.

Mosquito larvae found at twenty percent of homes Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:25:27 +0000 St.maarten– The National Mosquito Elimination community program Zika Virus disease Beat ZikV was in the residential area of Betty’s Estate Saturday a week ago and of the homes visited, one in five had mosquito larvae.

The vector control team and volunteers visited more than seventy premises of which 28 were found open for yard inspections.

A home owner’s survey was also carried out in Betty’s Estate together with the yard inspection in order to determine people’s attitudes towards and knowledge of mosquitos and elimination measures.

The survey revealed that 54 per cent of the home owners questioned considered mosquito’s a problem, and 40 per cent limited their time outdoors because of mosquitoes. Only 18 per cent of those questioned thought that the mosquito problem had worsened within the last three years while 56 per cent were of the opinion that the mosquito problem had remained unchanged.

Collective Prevention Services (CPS) coordinates this campaign.

The Vector Control Unit of CPS was supported by volunteers from the Red Cross.

The Beat ZikV campaign headed last Saturday to the residential areas of Ebenezer and St. Peters.

Mosquitoes are among the deadliest animals in the world. Their ability to carry and spread disease to humans causes millions of deaths every year.

In 2015 malaria alone caused 438,000 deaths. The worldwide incidence of dengue has risen 30-fold in the past 30 years, and more countries are reporting their first outbreaks of the disease.

Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever are all transmitted to humans by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. More than half of the world’s population lives in areas where this mosquito species is present.

Sustained mosquito control efforts are important to prevent outbreaks from these diseases. There are several different types of mosquitoes and some have the ability to carry many different diseases.

The Beat ZikV community program calls for close cooperation of residents within the identified districts to ensure a smooth operation of house to house visits and their availability to create an opportunity to provide one on one education on the elimination of mosquito breeding sites in and around the house.

The ultimate objective is to minimize the occurrence of mosquito borne diseases by eliminating mosquito breeding sites within the districts with a special focus on the elimination of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

Actively destroy or dispose of tin cans, old tires, buckets, unused plastic swimming pools or other containers that collect and hold water. Do not allow water to accumulate in the saucers of flowerpots, cemetery urns/vase or in pet dishes for more than two days. Throw out the water and turn them over every time it collects water.

For information about dengue fever, zika and chikungunya prevention measures and to report mosquito breeding sites call CPS at 542 20 78 or 542 30 03 or email to surveillance

Police warn against possession of tasers Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:24:42 +0000 St.maarten – The police have taken notice of the increased popularity of tasers among youngsters. In two separate cases students of secondary schools were caught in the possession of a taser. They were taken away and the students were expelled from school. The Juvenile Department was informed about the situation.

“Tasers are electroshock weapons that come in different types, shapes and sizes,” the police note in a press release. “Tasers can be compared to firearms. The use of these weapons can be very dangerous and can cause severe burns and even heart attacks.”

The police warn “the entire community including youngsters that the use and possession of a taser in public places is illegal.”

The police are asking parents “to pay attention to what your children are buying and have around the house. We are better safe than sorry.”

Hand Foot and Mouth disease cases increase Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:23:23 +0000 St.maarten – There has been a noticeable increase in cases of Hand Foot and Mouth Disease, The Collective Prevention Services (CPS) says in a press release and urges parents and guardians, day care centers and play schools to be on alert for an increase in clusters of the disease amongst the school population. CPS advises to take extra measures to prevent outbreaks by washing of hands often with soap and water.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease is a common viral illness that usually affects infants and children who are 10-years of age or younger. It can sometimes occur in adults. There is no vaccine to protect against the viruses that cause it.

People with symptoms should consult their family physician and take n measures to mitigate an increase in the number of cases.

Symptoms include cold-like conditions, fever, mouth sores, loss of appetite, cough, and a skin rash; a non-itchy red rash that develops on the hand and the feet, and sometimes the rash can develop into painful blisters; painful mouth ulcers.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is spread from person to person through nose and throat secretions (such as saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus), blister fluid, or stool of infected persons.

To lower the risk of an infection, CPS advises to wash hands often with soap and water, especially after changing diapers and using the toilet; disinfecting dirty surfaces and soiled items, including toys. First wash the items with soap and water, and then disinfect them with a solution of bleach; avoid close contact such as kissing, hugging, thumb-sucking, nail-chewing or sharing eating utensils or cups with infected persons.

Hand, foot and mouth disease is not the same as foot and mouth disease, which affects cattle, sheep and pigs. The two infections are unrelated, and you cannot catch hand, foot and mouth disease from animals.

For information can call CPS at 542 20 78 or 542 30 03 or send an email to surveillance

Call for witnesses of fatal accident Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:22:12 +0000 GREAT BAY – The police are requesting assistance from the community in connection with the investigation into the fatal traffic accident on September 6 on the Airport Road that took the life of cyclist Bas de Haan.

The police are urgently requesting all eyewitnesses to call the traffic department to share information by calling 542 22 22 ext. 240 and 241.

Pearl of China: $120 million investment; 400 jobs “All jobs are for locals” Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:21:29 +0000 St.maarten – The Hanwang Caribbean Forum, the groundbreaking at Little Bay Beach preceded by a protest that involved the Hope and the Christian Party, followed by a press conference where Shuqiang Cui, president of New Life Town Investment and Development Limited China promised “400 stable and well-paying jobs’ took away a lot of the mystery that surrounded the Pearl of China project last Saturday.

The text on the invitation for the events – The Pearl of Caribbean and China Global Trade Center – made already clear that the project is not tourism- but business-driven. Prime Minister William Marlin said that the developer – Universal Light Real Estate NV – bought the property in Little Bay, and that it also bought the building permit the previous owner held for the never realized Barbaron project. Under review is at the moment a variance, the developer has requested; once that has been processed nothing stands in the way of construction.

Construction is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2017; completion of the work will take two years.

Finance Minister Richard Gibson repeated at the press conference that fiscal facilities – like a tax holiday – had not been requested and had not been offered either.

The investment in the trade center is approximately $120 million, Cui said through a translator, adding that obtaining financing would not be a problem.

The protests ahead of the groundbreaking ceremony brought out startup politicians such as Wycliffe Smith (Christian party) and Mercedes van der Waals-Wyatt and Jacinto Mock (Hope), as well as St. Maarten Pride president Jadira Veen and Sjaoul Richardson of the youth empowerment movement Shoot Hoops Not Guns.

The protesters came with placards showing texts such as, ‘I am not afraid of the Chinese, I am afraid of my own politicians’ and ‘For Sale: ‘Friendly Island’ Reduced price!’ but their actions remained peaceful.

Prime Minister William Marlin described the protests later in the afternoon at the press conference as small. “We are not concerned about these protests,” he said.

“The response and the comments can be a driving force for us to make this project more successful,” a relaxed and smiling Shuqiang Cui said later at the press conference.

The Hanwang Caribbean Forum took place at the Great Bay Beach Hotel on Saturday morning. The Hanwang Forum stems from an international forum on sustainable development that was held at the Diaoyutai Guesthouse in Beijing in 2005. Seven years later, in 2012, the inaugural Hangwang Forum – an international conference on disaster prevention and relief and sustainable development was held in Beijing and Deyang. On Saturday, the forum spread its wings for the first time into the Caribbean.

Representatives of the Chinese delegation at the forum explained the philosophy behind the forum – and with it the philosophy behind the Pearl of China project.

The devastating May 12, 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake near the southwestern Chinese city of Dujianyang killed 90,000 people and wounded 375,000. It set the stage for the Hanwang Forum that focuses on climate change, disaster relief and sustainable development.

“We care about ecological values more than anyone else,” Shuqiang Cui said. “Everyone on our team holds the spirit of sustainable development; and we hope to bring this to St. Maarten.”

The Consul-General for China in Willemstad, Weixin Zhang, spoke about the new Silk Road – labeled One Belt One Road – and the way the Chinese do business. The original Silk Road was established thousands of years ago and was traveled by traders from China towards Europe – over land and over sea. “The country did not only trade silk, also ceramic and Chinese inventions,” the consul-general said. ”We also traded products from the countries along the route and had cultural exchanges. That way the cultures of east and west came together.”

The Silk Road, the consul-general continued, promoted the development of human civilization and it is a key heritage, not only for China, but for the world. It is promoting the philosophy of cooperation.”

China wants to cooperate and integrate with other countries, the consul-general emphasized. He spoke of ‘creating friendship and trust” and said that China works together with more than one hundred countries and non-governmental organizations and that on the industrial level there is cooperation with more than twenty countries.

The trade between China and the Netherlands is worth $70 billion. There are more than one thousand Dutch companies in China and more than 500 Chinese companies in the Netherlands, creating 8,600 jobs. We want to expand this philosophy of the new Silk Road,” the consul-general said, adding that he is pleased that the Pearl of China project is coming to St. Maarten. “This will also be a platform for entrepreneurs in the Caribbean. There are employment opportunities for St. Maarteners. This is a win-win cooperation.”

Prime Minister Marlin referred to the impact China will have on a small society like St. Maarten. “We are considered a strong link to carry out the vision of One Belt One Road.”

It is unfortunate, Marlin added, “that some make it appear as if this is about the construction of a hotel. This project will have a much further reaching impact on the economy. It will bring the world together, using St. Maarten as a hub.”

The project has “immeasurable potential” Marlin said, adding that more people begin to realize what it entails. “We are getting calls from people who want more information and they want to be part of this development. We understand that some people were taken aback because they thought that this is not for real, but the enormous benefits will become clear in the coming years.”

Cui assured the forum that he is not about to disappoint anyone and that this will become “the most successful project in St. Maarten.”

Yongjun He, described as a researcher for the People’s Daily – the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party – noted that this publication is “different from other newspapers.” He spoke about the desire to develop strong and mutually beneficial relationships between China, Latin-America and the Caribbean, the desire to expand trade of products with added value and the way these relationships should be maintained. “It is like a sprout that needs nourishing to grow into a large strong tree.”

Finance Minister Richard Gibson said in a brief address that the project “will change the landscape of St. Maarten forever – physically, but also financially. We will no longer have to worry about deficits, there will be surpluses on the budget,” he said. “This will lead to expansion of our economy, more dynamic and more business activity. I am extremely pleased with the philosophy with which Mr. Cui is approaching this project. It does not solely focus on profit; it is about increasing happiness and decreasing carbo-emissions. That is a refreshing new approach to development.”

Minister Gibson said that the One Belt One Road approach also offers opportunities to local entrepreneurs. And “to equip them with technology that was up to now not available to them. This will bring China and St. Maarten closer together and improve the happiness and wellbeing of the people.”

At the press conference in the afternoon language was an obvious topic. How will the Chinese work on cultural exchange and cooperation if all communication has to go through translators? Shuqiang Cui started his answer in a philosophical style.

“I hope everyone knows Chinese, it is a beautiful language,” he said. “Every single character of our language holds a lot of Chinese philosophy. We can send people to Chinese language courses; again, it is a beautiful language but not easy to learn. I hope that everyone will commit to learning Chinese for five years.”

Cui then put many minds a bit at ease: “Back to the project; the people responsible for it will speak English. Communication will be no problem.”

Asked how many of the 400 jobs he spoke about earlier are for locals, Cui said: “All jobs are for locals. And there will be more jobs coming.”

Cui said he is willing to work with local contracts “if they meet the quality standards.”

The People’s Daily Yongjun He remarked that the protesters in Little Bay “do not have enough understanding of China.”

Prime Minister Marlin said that it is unclear “whether there is a protest because of the elections of because of a lack of information. It is clear that there were not many protesters at all, so there is no reason for concern.”

On the flip side, Marlin said that many contractors have approached the government. “They all support the project. The focus is on creating jobs for locals and on preparing locals to be qualified for the jobs on offer. In the coming three months we will make an inventory to make sure that local contractors have the right equipment and technology to take part in a project of this magnitude.”

Life expectancy in the Netherlands goes up Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:20:29 +0000 THE HAGUE – Life expectancy in the Netherlands continues to rise and a girl born this year is likely to live to the age of 93, according to new figures from the Dutch actuarial association. The average boy baby will live to just over 90 and babies born in 50 years time will be not far off 100. Medical advances have already boosted life expectancy and babies born now will be able to benefit from many new medical development, the association said on Thursday. The downside is that life insurance companies and pension funds will have to build up higher buffers to cope with people living longer. The state pension age, which is currently being increased and will hit 67 in 2021 will also rise. The association says that today’s 40-year-olds will have to work until they are 70 before they will be able to retire.

Préfète Labies out of place with remarks about press conference Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:19:50 +0000 St.martin—“France via the Préfète does not recognize or take into consideration the reality of this territory or give value to the Treaty of Concordia which dates back some 400 years ago and which was signed by France and Holland,” the former president of the Collectivité Alain Richardson says. He stated that the Treaty of Concordia is a binding legal document that supersedes national law.

The former president was reacting to statements made by Préfète Déléguée Anne Labies who considered the press conference that was held with members of the French media corps at the Chamber of Commerce in Concordia last week with MP Leona Romeo-Marlin last week as illegal.

“When one reads the statement that was put out by the Préfète that indicates it was totally illegal and goes on to say that she will be paying keen attention to things such as these, it means that France is making an effort to pull St. Martin fully under its wings in the sense of a French setting,” said Richardson. He pointed out that it seems as though France will do this with utter disregard to the Treaty of Concordia or any other binding document.

He mentioned that as a political leader this statement by Labies “sends again another clear message that we must resist this and dispute. This kind of attitude has no consideration to the ties that bind the people of this island and also is intended to “send a wedge between the peoples of both sides of the island.”

He noted that there are some 1,700 people residing on the French side who have dual citizenship and vote on both sides of the island. These persons are among the voters in the September 26 elections and they are enough to secure two seats in the parliament on the Dutch side and thus remain an important part of the electorate.

Richardson said that Marlin-Romeo hosted the press conference at the Chamber of Commerce in Concordia and that the objective was to give information to the media. He finds the Préfète “out of place or she went out of her way in condemning this event.” He indicated that because it was information brought to the press, it is a known fact that a democracy is as strong as the voters who can make a wise decision based on the information that they receive.

He questions how could this meeting be deemed “illegal, “when this information could be shared through the French media. He maintains that if this is considered illegal, then the radio and television stations on the southern side of the island that interview candidates should be stopped. They should isolate the people on the northern side by closing the wave links which would prevent the people from listening to what is said.

He describes this as “a ridiculous approach” by the powers that be. He condemns the fact that there is a blind eye by the State of France and the Préfecture on the practices, the history and the heritage of the island.

“I understand that there cannot be billboards and the type of propaganda materials that are displayed on the Dutch side but the right to information and the rights of the voters that reside on the northern side of the island to know, to hear and to discuss with the candidates must be considered and respected.

Richardson pointed out that it was only recently when there was an election in the Dominican Republic there was a voting station on French St. Martin. He could not say if this was done through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in France but nationals of the Dominican Republic were allowed to vote and elect their candidate in that country.

However, he said, the historical reality of the island is that the candidates on both sides of the island during an election engage the people to bring to their attention the issues and in some cases facts so that they can make a proper decision on the candidate they will vote for.

Richardson concluded that although the Labies could be within her rights to speak according to the French law, “she must take into consideration that there is a treaty that binds us on this island.”

Tourist Bureau takes students on a tour Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:18:50 +0000 St.maarten– The St. Maarten Tourist Bureau recently received 33 students from the Sundial School with their teachers for a tour of the island.

The students were 3rd and 4th formers from the hospitality section. They visited hotel properties and historical sites on the both sides of the island. On the tour they were also provided with information about careers in tourism and the role of the Tourist Bureau.

“The Tourist Bureau continues to work with our students, in order to bring about greater awareness about our tourism industry”, stated William Bell.

Looking back at St. Maarten’s recent history “No one wants to stay on a leaking ship in the middle of the oc ean” Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:17:56 +0000 St.maarten – More than twelve years ago, on January 28, 2004, current Minister of Finance Richard Gibson Sr. presented the Lionel B. Scott Memorial address at the Philipsburg Mutual improvement Association. Today, that speech puts the recent history of St. Maarten in perspective with a flurry of interesting data and observations.

By Richard Gibson Sr.

In his book “A Tale of Two cities” Charles Dickens opens his literary classic with the sentence: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. The state of affairs of the Netherlands Antilles today, can be characterized as the “worst of times, but also the best of times.”

The financial state of affairs of our country can be characterized as the worst of times, because never before in the annals of our history have our people been bending under the yoke of so much debt. The debt burden has grown to such levels that they virtually have become unmanageable on our own strength. A degree of resignation and hopelessness can be noted amongst the best and brightest of our country who are in the know. Solutions without external assistance are no longer possible.

The outstanding debt of our country as per the end of 1993 amounts to 4.6 billion guilders, which represents 95% of our Gross Domestic Product. To put this number in perspective it should be noted that debt sustainability, according to studies conducted by the United Nations, are manageable by low income countries, if their debt quota does not exceed 35% to 40% of GDP. The European Monetary Union maintains a debt quota norm of 60% of GDP for debt sustainability for European Countries. European countries are at a higher level of development than the Netherlands Antilles. The Netherlands Antilles in terms of its present level of development, hovers between that of low income countries and that of European countries. The debt quota norm of the Netherlands Antilles for debt sustainability is therefore at approximately 50% of GDP. The existing debt quota of the Netherlands Antilles today is at 95% of GDP. Double what is required for debt sustainability. In terms of its debt quota the Netherlands Antilles is a run-away train about to crash.

Debt sustainability is the ability of a government to make principal and interest payments on debts, without having to make any incisive adjustments to its income and expenditures patterns. To attain debt sustainability level the Netherlands Antilles must reduce its debt load from 4.6 billion to 2.3 billion guilders. A hole this deep, on our own strength, now appears impossible to fill.

How did we land in this apparent bottomless financial pit? Has this financial pit accelerated the desire of the islands for a new constitutional structure? Of course it has. No one wants to stay on board a leaking ship in the middle of the ocean, especially when its captain and crew are unable or unwilling to fix the leaks.

Ten years ago the perception that reigned was completely different. Ten years ago the Netherlands Antilles still enjoyed a broad base of goodwill amongst the citizens of all the islands. Evidence of this surfaced in the referenda held in 1993 and 1994 sponsored by the Central Government on all the islands of the Netherlands Antilles. In these referenda the people of the Netherlands Antilles overwhelmingly voted in favor of remaining part of the Netherlands Antilles. 90.66% of the people of Sint Eustatius voted in favor of remaining in the Netherlands Antilles; 89.65% of the people of Bonaire; 86.28% in Saba; 73.56% in Curacao and St. Martin came in last place with 59.48%.

At the time the referenda were held in 1993/1994 very little was known about the real debt burden of the Netherlands Antilles. In the campaigns accompanying the referenda no information on the status of the debts of the Netherlands Antilles was disseminated, nor was the debt load of the Netherlands Antilles an issue in these campaigns. There is no doubt in my mind that if the people of the Netherlands Antilles knew what we know today, that the outcome of the referenda in 1994, would have been completely different.

In 1994 the Netherlands Antilles had already substantially exceeded the level of debt sustainability and it was already known that government had to raise taxes substantially and cut expenditures drastically, to be able to make ends meet. This information, regrettably was either not known or kept under wraps. It was not addressed during the referenda campaigns.

It was generally known that income from the offshore industry had fallen drastically during the period 1986 – 1990. It was also known that the oil crisis during that time caused Venezuela to devaluate its Bolivar and that this devaluation caused the lucrative trade between Venezuela and Curacao that generated millions of guilders, to disappear overnight. Shell refinery as result of the same oil crisis had to redistribute its refining capacity worldwide and closed down in Curacao during this same period. With it millions of guilders went out the window. Shell was eventually replaced by the Venezuelan oil refining company PDVSA, however

PDVSA had to be granted a full and complete tax holiday, before it decided invest and restart the refinery in Curacao. All of these events, to the residents of the other islands, were seen as remote events that affected only the island of Curacao and not any of the other islands.

The full financial impact of these events were either not known or were not made public at that time. By the end of 1990 yearly tax income to the tune of 193 million guilders had disappeared from the coffers of government. In 13 years this translates into a whopping loss of income to the tune 2.5 billion guilders. No small, median income country can absorb such a loss, without a deep recession and incisive authority measures. No significant measures were taken by the government at that time to deal with this reality.

The Central government and the government of Curacao started to develop significant budget deficits that had to be financed. Budget deficits were financed by taking loans from the pension fund, by not paying SVB premiums, by making loans from local banks and by issuing bonds. As long as there was a source from which government could attract money they went ahead and did so, until those sources were exhausted. Bonds became the favorite tool to take money from Peter to pay Paul. When government needed money they sold bonds to the public and when the bonds had to be paid, they issued new bonds to pay off the old ones.

Every housewife knows that when your income reduces, you have to take steps to reduce your expenses with an equal amount or find ways to generate additional income. If not, you will not be able to make ends meet at the end of the month. You do not have to be a financial genius to figure out that you cannot increase your expenses, at the same time that your income has reduced drastically. This basic common sense rule appears to have been too difficult a concept for our government officials in Willemstad to understand, because they did just the opposite. Instead of reducing expenditures, they decided to increase expenditures in spite of the fact that a substantial part of their income had disappeared. In 1992 government increased salaries of civil-servants and teachers by 14%. At the same time government who preached equality, but did not practice it, was forced by a decision handed down by the court to respect the principle of equal pay for equal work and eliminate discrimination based on civil status. Personnel expenditures as a result skyrocketed to 306 million guilders. The overall expenses of government climbed from 502 million to 1.5 billion guilders. Part of the increase in expenditures can be attributed to increase in subsidies government decided to make available to government owned companies such as ALM.

It did not take too long after for government to realize that the party could not continue and that drastic measures no longer could be avoided. Government had to increase its income and reduce its expenses. To increase income government decided to introduce a consumption tax called turnover tax (BBO). This occurred after the 1993/1994 referenda and at a time that St. Martin’s economy had been devastated by successive hurricanes, starting with hurricane Luis in 1995. The introduction of the turnover tax in circa 1996 planted the seed firmly for Saint Martin to review the decision it took in 1994 to remain in the Netherlands Antilles. By 2000 Saint Martin organized a referendum and the people reversed their 1994 decision and decided to step out of the Netherlands Antilles. This did not occur solely because of the fact that the turnover tax legislation was adopted, but because it highlighted the following picture.

From 1986 up to and including today 97% of all the debts of the Netherlands Antilles were debts created by Curacao and the Central Government. In other words of the 4.6 billion guilders the Netherlands Antilles owes today 97% can directly be attributed to Curacao and the Central Government. The debt load today has increased to such a level that for every guilder collected, Naf. 0.25 goes towards payment of interest only.

If the existing debt load was to be divided proportionately tomorrow between the islands of the Netherlands Antilles on a per capita basis, approximately 1 billion guilders would be for the account of Saint Martin. It has been projected that if the present trend continues that in 6 years time the debt burden of the Netherlands Antilles will grow to 10 billion guilders, representing 250% of GDP. This would have catastrophic consequences. If left uncurbed this trend will lead to destabilization of the Antillean guilder, deep recessions, emigration, capital flight and a total loss of investor’s confidence. Saint Martin’s share of the debt burden in 6 years, if it had to be divided proportionately based on population, will be approximately 3 billion guilders, or 1.5 billion guilders, if half of the debt can be ascribed strictly to Curacao. Having to pay 1, 1.5, or 3 billion guilders in debt, for which Saint Martin received little or nothing for in return, only because you form part of the Netherlands Antilles, is quite a bitter pill to swallow, even if ways could be found to do so.

Most discouraging is the fact that in spite of the spate of measures taken by the government over the past years, the debts continue to increase at alarming rates. Approximately 30% of the civil-servant corps was sent home, either through lay-offs or by privatization of government owned companies between 1996 and 2001. Additionally increases and indexing of civil servant salaries were temporary frozen, vacation allowances were eliminated and overtime and hiring of new personnel was restricted. Turnover tax legislation was adopted, rights of Parliament were temporarily suspended to give the cabinet a free hand to adopt numerous new revenue enhancing taxes. The tax burden on the people of the Netherlands Antilles was mercilessly increased at a time when the economy showed recessive tendencies and contributed to a continued downward spiral of the economy. Yet, notwithstanding all of these steps that government took aimed at increasing its revenues, its revenues decreased and its expenditures continued to skyrocket. As we speak the debt burden continues to grow. As it grows Saint Martin’s share of debts of the Netherlands Antilles increases. It means that the longer it takes for Saint Martin to extricate itself out of the present Antillean constellation the worse off it becomes.

In the meantime the effect of having to share a shrinking pie that is not enough to feed everyone, manifests itself in skirmishes between Saint Martin and the Central Government for available scarce resources. The refusal of the Central Government to provide Saint Martin with vehicles and personnel for its police department that it has a right to, is symptomatic of these scare resources. The machinations surrounding the SMMC to label it a peripheral hospital to distinguish it from SoHo’s to justify paying less to SMMC than to Sehos is nothing else than a reflection of the shrinking pie that is too small to share and a battle to divert resources from Saint Martin to Curacao with a lot of mumbo jumbo arguments. The magical illusion in making ALM disappear out of the hands of the Netherlands Antilles, only to re-appear in the hands of the island government of Curacao as DCA airlines, falls in the same category, of diverting resources to Curacao. So has the ingenious steps that were taken to transform the lucrative long-distance telephone company “Landsradio” into Antelecom and finally it too landed in the hands of and under the control of the Curacao owned company called Setel.

Given the hopelessness of the present situation and the knowledge that we are outvoted in a predominantly Curacao controlled Parliament, it is not surprising that virtually every island of the Netherlands Antilles today wants out of the Netherlands Antilles one way or another. This was not the case in 1994, but today the tables have turned around completely.

Every government of every island of the Netherlands Antilles wants out of the Netherlands Antilles. This includes Curacao, judging from the public statements made by Anthony Godet of the Fol, who stated that within six months of this year Curacao will be holding a referendum, for the purposes of extracting Curacao out of the Netherlands Antilles. Parliament of the Netherlands Antilles passed a resolution in 2000 instructing the government of the Netherlands Antilles to facilitate and accommodate the departure of Saint Martin from the Netherlands Antilles. Everyone in the Netherlands Antilles, judging from public statements made, has concluded that the Netherlands Antilles, as a structure of government for the Netherlands Antilles, has run the gamut. Curacao in particular has made it known that the two levels of government are costly and burdensome and that it too desires one level of government. It was generally accepted that the elections for the last Parliament would be the last Parliament of the Netherlands Antilles. Again it is being said that the present Parliament will be the last Parliament of the Netherlands Antilles. Holland, who initially objected against having a direct discussions with Saint Martin based on the outcome of Referendum 2000, after having consistently refused to talk to Saint Martin, under the guise that the Netherlands Antilles is its discussion partner and not the individual islands, now seems to be coming round. It has changed its tune. Today voices in Holland have also been heard stating that the Netherlands Antilles is a passed station.

Yet, constitutional change continues to be elusive. The proof of the pudding is not in the talking, but in the tasting. Politicians in the Netherlands Antilles talk the talk, but they are not walking the walk. After repeatedly having stated that constitutional change is necessary and knowing fully well that the first step to speak with authority about desired constitutional change is to host a referendum, we see that, with the exception of Saint Martin, none of the other islands of the Netherlands to date, have consulted their citizens as to the direction to take on constitutional change. I find this quite curious. They all say they want change, but they are not taking the steps to bring about the changes they say they want. They talk the talk, but they are not walking the walk. Talking without placing the question of constitutional change to the vote in a referendum, freezes the process of constitutional change. Saint Martin’s quest from this point of view is being frustrated and will continue to be frustrated until such time that the people on the other islands express their will on constitutional change through a referendum. As the process continues to be frozen a point will arrive at when we might have to face the question of the consequences of the debt of the Antilles that will have to be shared. I shudder to think about this factor, but it is a factor that has to be considered. The debts of the country could balloon to a certain level that could make stepping out of the Netherlands Antilles prohibitive. It is a tantalizing question that becomes more and more real, every day that Saint Martin’s quest for a separate status is delayed. When that moment arrives, and that moment is not too far away, no politician will have the right to make that decision on their own. A new plebiscite might be in the offing on this specific question. I trust that moment will not come and that Saint Martin will find a way long before that question will have to be faced.

Finally, I would like to mention that at the beginning of my address I quoted Charles Dickens: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. We talked a lot about why it is “the worst of times”, but nothing was said about “the best of times”. It is the best of times simply because all elements seem to be converging to seriously address Saint Martin’s desire for constitutional change. Holland is an important partner and plays a significant role in bringing about constitutional change and for the first time, for many reasons, Holland is listening and beginning to understand our complaints and desire for constitutional change. Every island wants a change and Holland itself is taking note and wants certain changes itself. That makes a fertile bed for the best of times as far as opportunities are concerned for change.

I want to sincerely thank the board of Philipsburg Mutual Improvement Association for their invitation to speak to you tonight. I am humbled by the invitation and that I was given the opportunity to honor Lionel B Scott in this special way. I also would like to thank each and everyone here for coming out tonight and lending their ear. It is my fervent hope that my address tonight contributed, even if it is in a small way, to a better understanding of our plight for constitutional change.