“It is essential to generate more revenue” Governor’s address brings plans for 2016 into focusPOSTED: 09/16/15 10:28 PM
St. Maarten – Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday outlined the priorities of the government’s policy-intentions for the next twelve months in an address at the parliament yesterday morning on the occasion of the opening of the parliamentary year 2015-2016. “To cover the costs of the government’s policy agenda it is essential to generate more revenue,” the governor said.
In its Strategy for Growth, the government has made the promotion of economic growth and a reorganization of the tax system its core objectives. The focus will be on addressing tax arrears in the short term, the governor said.
Controlling and cleaning up the tax registry, accelerating the collection of tax arrears and the handling of complaints, and improving tax compliance are actions to support these objectives. Tax reform will focus on wage, income and profit taxes first.
The government will also look for external funding, the governor said. The cabinet is looking for this purpose at the European Union, the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization – “where possible in collaboration with French and British territories.”
“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,” the governor said. Part of these initiatives is an increased use of technology, data synchronization and strengthening legal capacity through recruitment and a partnership with the Legislative Academy in the Netherlands. Furthermore the government wants to create incentives to support the Brain Gain project.
The governor devotes a lot of attention to national identity, participation and capacity. Cultural awareness campaigns “to teach citizens about the culture of Sint Maarten” programs that create opportunities for talented young artists and the preservation of national monuments are a part of this.
The governor furthermore mentioned investments 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 archeological center.
“The government is committed to the implementation of the recommendations of the four integrity reports,” Governor Holiday said. Implementing the national ordinance that regulates the establishment of the Integrity Chamber is one of the government’s priorities.
In the field of education the government will present ordinances on study financing and higher education during this parliamentary year, and revisions to the Foundation Based Education ordinance as well as amendments to the ordinance that regulates secondary education.
“The government considers vocational education a key in the future of our economy,” the governor said. “Within public education 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.”
Furthermore the establishment of a summer school program, the one tablet per child program, an after school care policy and a comprehensive early childhood development policy are in the works. The one tablet per school initiative was already announced by Patricia Lourens, the predecessor of Education Minister Rita Bourne-Gumbs, but so far it has not materialized.
An area of concern remains the number of at-risk youth. “The strengthening of prevention programs is an essential policy strategy to ensure that the number of at-risk youth does not continue to rise. We must safeguard our youth against poverty, drug abuse, unemployment and human rights violations,” the governor said, adding that the Court of Guardianship has put in place a child abuse alarm center.
Earlier in his address, Governor Holiday spoke about St. Maarten’s 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 low-income families.”
Later on in appears how the government intends to tackle this situation: “With people living longer government is in the process of introducing reforms to increase the participation of the elderly and to secure the financial sustainability of support systems.”
The 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,” the governor said. He also noted that government is “reviewing the feasibility of a compulsory pension system.”
Labor market reforms are also in the crosshairs of the Gumbs-cabinet. They are about the short term labor contracts, the heavily criticized counterpart policy, occupational safety and health policy and the enforcement of existing laws to promote fair business practices.
Zoning plans and the expansion of sewage treatment facilities are among the topics that touch upon improving the living environment for citizens. And there is more: “The government intends to introduce revised legislation that focuses on the quality of the construction of buildings and structures and to develop a storm water drainage and management plan,” the governor said.
Preparations to implement a country wide security camera system are in their final stages, Governor Holiday announced. Other plans are the realization of “a more effective and efficient logistical use of police resources and patrols as well as ambulance services.”
Plans for the purchase of property to establish a state of the art shooting range, operational training and logistical center, and a forensic laboratory for the police force “have already been worked out and are nearing completion,” the governor said.
A comprehensive justice information system is currently functioning as a successful pilot with the Court of Guardianship. “Information systems for the prison, Customs, probation services, the youth detention center and immigration are ready for installation,” Governor Holiday said.
On the government’s economic agenda are – among other initiatives – the establishment of a tourism authority and a civil aviation and shipping registry.
In November, the government will host a tripartite meeting with the prime ministers of Aruba and Curacao. Next year, the fourth Kingdom Conference will take place in St. Maarten.
Closer ties with the French side of the island are high on the government’s agenda. “It will work closely with its Saint Martin counterparts on the implementation of the treaty on police cooperation.”