Governor Holiday at opening parliamentary year: “There are real opportunities for economic growth”

POSTED: 09/10/14 7:30 AM

St. Maarten – Ravel’s Bolero was once more floating through the parliament building yesterday morning ahead of the official opening of the parliamentary year 2014-2015. What stood out apart from the music was the absence of United People’s party leader Theo Heyliger – who had sent notice – and of Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams who was for undisclosed reasons off island.

Other Members of Parliament who passed on the festive occasions were Jules James, who missed his re-election by a mere three votes, Dr. Lloyd Richardson – both of the UP – and independent MP Patrick Illidge.

Plenty of others answered the call however. Among the invited guests were the President of the Collectivité d’Outremer de Saint Martin, Aline Hanson, the Vice-President of the Common Court of Justice, Koen Luijks, Attorney-General Guus Schram, Solicitor-General Taco Stein, Chief Prosecutor Rick Noordhoek and the chairman of the now disbanded integrity committee, Justice Bob Wit.

Outside an honor guard awaited the arrival of Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday. A reception committee, consisting of three MPs that will not serve during the next term – Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce, Roy Marlin and Romain Laville – received the governor and First Lady Marie Louise and guided the couple to the legislative hall.

Governor Holiday’s traditional speech at the opening of the parliamentary year – his fifth one since St. Maarten obtained autonomy on 10-10-10 – did not focus as usual on the government’s policy agenda for the upcoming year, but on challenges and opportunities.

“The country is in a transitionary phase, with the current ministers functioning as caretakers. I have requested these ministers to continue managing the interest of the people by addressing the country’s day to day operations.”

There are real opportunities for economic growth in the period ahead, the governor said. “A pick-up in tourism can already be seen in the figures. Our economy is expected to grow by about 2 percent this year, according to recent projections of the IMF and the Ministry of Tourism and Economic Affairs. We have a healthy debt to GDP ratio of approximately 30 percent.” Tourism represents 71 percent of the country’s export.

However, the governor furthermore noticed that economic growth has not resulted in “greater fiscal space.” It is essential to address issues like unemployment, poverty, increasing healthcare costs and the increasing shortage of affordable housing, he said.

Governor Holiday pointed out that the country’s population is relatively young, but that people are living longer and that the population therefore is steadily ageing. “These issues form critical policy challenges,” he said. Legislation addressing civil contracts and price indexation are expected to be handled in parliament this year. The price indexation ordinance will lead to an increase in social benefits, the governor said.

Increased old-age pensions, the increase of the retirement age, and compulsory pension plans are part of attempt to curb poverty. “Maintaining current social security provisions, health promotion activities and the quality of healthcare in light of annual budget cuts are other issues the new government and parliament will face,” the governor said.

Investing in strategic international and Caribbean alliances has yielded financial resources and technical assistance from agencies like the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization and the European Union.

“Education is ultimately the most effective way to combat unemployment,” Governor Holiday said. “The promotion of equal access to quality education, recreation and social and physical development has therefore been a key issue for the current government.”

Ensuring the safety and security of the population “continues to be a challenge,” the governor furthermore pointed out. “For a large part this is due to the limited fiscal space. Finding a good balance between preventive measures – through education – and repressive measures will continue to demand attention.”

Legislation has been prepared for the establishment of a small claims court, the introduction of a tourist driver’s license and for the new code for penal procedures.

In the field of foreign relations, the governor mentioned the importance of cooperation with French Saint Martin and the United States of America, and the strengthened ties with Barbados and the Dominican Republic.

Furthermore, the governor remarked “that the government has worked to create the St. Maarten Tourism Authority,” and that it has taken steps to establish an intellectual property bureau. Challenges lying ahead concern the development of a competition and consumer protection authority and “an agency responsible for licensing and control over all gaming operations on the island and a review of tariff systems.” This last remark refers to the elusive Gaming Control Board.

Addressing tax reform, the governor said that this is an opportunity to strengthen the function of taxation as a source of revenue. At the same time, he added, “it is essential to implement tax reforms that favor the poor on our island. This way, taxation can also be a useful development tool.”

After the governor’s address, Parliament President Gracita Arrindell declared the parliamentary year open. Because this was her last performance in this function, Arrindell thanked everybody and even held up a sign that simply read, Thank You.

Afterward, everybody went out on Front Street to watch a parade of marines, the VKS and the police, before repairing to Holland House, where Arrindell presented the parliament youth awards.



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