New Year’s message St. Maarten Prime Minister

POSTED: 01/5/14 10:20 PM

“Openness from the side of government is key”

St. Maarten – “Openness from the side of government is key and timely dissemination of information and plans by government should be the norm,” Prime Minister Wescot-Williams stated in her New Year’s message. 2013 Was “the year of instructions,” and 2014 opens the door for access to loans to finance long term projects. This however will not completely offset the constraints government faces with its finances,” Wescot-Williams stated. Here is the unabridged text of het address:

“A new year is upon us, what will it bring?

Standing on the doorstep of another year, it is always opportune to reflect on the past year, but the   focus should be on the year ahead. That’s what you can steer and where necessary adjust your sails. Standing at this same juncture in 2012, the government of St. Maarten consisted of an NA/DP government, supported by 3 independent members of parliament. The change in that constellation however came after a majority of parliament declared that the sitting government no longer had its support.

After a protracted length of time, with tensions running high in Parliament and in the government, a new Council of Ministers was sworn in on June 14th. The constitutional directive to call new elections by national decree took center stage in the discussions, as did the convening and adjourning of parliament meetings. Again looking back at   2012, this unleashed discussions regarding our political and electoral systems. As prime minister, I have taken it upon myself  to conduct the preliminary research necessary to present parliament and the people of St. Maarten with the options available to us in this regard and I  am convinced that if the parliament wishes to enact changes, this can be accomplished to go into effect for the 2014 parliamentary election. Already I have provided parliament with a response to its motion to effectuate electoral reform, namely that the laws to regulate what parliament expressed in its motion regarding electoral reform, are already in place. And what is necessary is to educate our people, citizens and politicians alike.

Amidst this all, the primary instrument of parliament to dictate the actions of government by means of the national budget, was not completed until in the last quarter of 2013, severely limiting the operations of government to practically “going concern” only.

2013 was also the year of “instructions.” While such was technically already the case for the budget 2013, that instruction was procedural in nature.

That was not the case with the instruction to the governor, which also dominated much of the final quarter of 2013. Fortunately, in 2014, everything points in the direction of a working relationship between the two committees, charged with executing an integrity investigation into the functioning of government. The stance of the government of St. Maarten regarding the kingdom decree is now being understood and even third parties have weighed in on the controversial approach of the kingdom government in this regard.

It is the expectation of government that the 2014 budgetary process will be completed mid-January. Government will then be able to focus on executing some of the projects for which long term capital is required. This however will not completely offset the constraints government faces with its finances. A stable financial climate is important for investors, who are needed to provide jobs and other business opportunities. Government is therefore at that critical juncture, where money is needed, both for government services and investments, but at the same time our economy is also at that critical stage, where careful thought needs to be given to the measures (to be) taken by government.

We say we are a young nation, a country in development, which is true. However, in becoming a country and taking up that mantle, it is expected of us that we meet and comply with international standards. Yes, many of the organized international contacts go through the kingdom government, however compliance and reporting are our responsibilities.

For this reason, I continue to clamor for dialogue amongst all stakeholders. Of course, it is important that we continue to work on the long term plan for St. Maarten, the nation’s National Development Plan, but the consultation that I am propagating is a more immediate and intense one.

For this to succeed, openness from the side of government is key and timely dissemination of information and plans by government should be the norm. As the minister responsible for information to the public, I believe that also includes an element of educating the people of our young nation, regarding government and its relationship with the people, the civic responsibilities we all have and a feeling of patriotic pride. Even in a parliamentary democracy and its inherent ministerial responsibility, the government of St. Maarten needs to portray that common vision of where we want to go. Petty politics have no place in the bigger scope of things our nation is confronted with.

Government financial ability is weak and so we all need to do our part to help contain the big cost items of government. Noteworthy in this regard are the general medical costs and the cost associated with a crime-free society. In both instances, an element of prevention is key in suppressing the skyrocketing costs.

Concerns have also been expressed regarding government’s personnel cost. There are however instances where more qualified personnel is urgently needed, e.g in the legislative area to develop draft legislation and in very specific disciplines. There is a component of nation building in this as well. While we have been able to attract many young and bright St. Maarteners to government service, we still have a long way to go.

Noteworthy in 2013 was the king’s visit in November. I think his approach bodes well for the future of the countries that make up the Dutch Kingdom and the spectacular show that was put on for His Majesty by our very own will long be remembered.

2013 has surely been a year of learning for St. Maarten. I hope we all are the wiser because of it.

As of 2014, a new Overseas Association Decision (OAD) will be in effect, regulating the relationship between the European Union and the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs). The cooperation with French St. Martin has intensified during 2013, with both sides working diligently on the first program for joint funding from the EU.

Government is actively seeking out relationships that offer the potential for growth for us in the area of investments, funding, partnerships  etc.

Urgent public (private) projects in my opinion are the waste management and disposal, fossil fuel dependency reduction (alternative energy) and affordable housing. We need to look at ways of reducing the cost of living and elevating the quality of living.

Governments all around the world fight an uphill battle in terms of public confidence. Societies, big and small fight complex issues that need urgent solutions. St. Maarten is no different. At least in our case, it is a more manageable process, once we have the public’s confidence that the government is serious and committed to solving the myriad of problems facing present day societies.  Each member of government and each community leader must put all his or her efforts in creating that basis of trust amongst the population. Allowing or encouraging the erosion of that trust, will come back at us like a boomerang.

While I am cognizant that 2014 is an election year, I must caution that it is also the year of critical decisions in terms of where we want to go as a nation. And the election will not change that or wish that away, regardless to what some politicians would like us to believe. There is no magic wand. And to use an old cliché, there are no free lunches.

What our country needs at this time, is a focused approach to our further development. One that requires thinking “outside of the box” or paradoxically, looking into the very box, as there are some solutions and ideas that are there, just in need of focus and agreement.

One example is the often times mentioned complimentary sectors to our tourist industry, such as the  hub function that we could exploit. And several sectors of our economy are doing exactly that. What is missing until now is a common hub strategy, utilizing all the country’s assets to promote that strategy. Other specialized areas remaining in the tourist industry, are medical tourism and with some planning, education tourism.

We need to focus much more on sustainable development. Often when speaking of sustainable development, we delineate the sector of the economy versus the environment. However, sustainable development is that and more; the social sector belongs in that equation, as does the so-called institutional sustainability (politics and governance).

We need to focus on all of these areas to make lasting progress.

To sum it up: In this phase of our development as a young nation, we have a lot to learn and educate ourselves about. We all have a responsibility. We need to come to a common vision for St. Maarten. All four areas of sustainable development are important: the economy, the environment, the social sector and governance.

I want to stand still a moment and express thanks to those who because of their work, make life and living easier for all of us. The people you see every day on the streets, the cleaners, newspaper vendors and the many volunteers this country relies on.

I pray that our people will rise to a level, appreciative of what we have, working together for what we want and considering the needs of others. We all should  educate our children not only academically, but also through example by being the best parents, role models and leaders of this community.

With that I would like to wish  all a very Happy 2014. Enjoy the New Year, be proud to live here and God bless you and our Sweet St. Maarten Land.”

 

 

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