Opinion: Investment climate

POSTED: 11/22/11 7:12 AM

Members of parliament went out of their way on Thursday to do the right thing for “the people” – in this case, the employees of the former Pelican Resort.
In the process, MPs ferociously attacked short-term labor contracts, employers and foreign investors.
When short term contracts are the subject of debate, MPs usually speak about 6-month contracts. What they never say, or what they forget to mention, is that the civil code does not mention 6-months contracts at all, so that makes it a bit hard to abolish them. The law only knows two kinds of employment: temporary and permanent.
A temporary job could be for 3 or 6 months, but also for two or three years, if it is for instance a specialized function for a construction project.
That the 6-month contracts are abused by some companies is easy to believe, and for sure, something must be done about it.
But MPs seem to think that it is now time for such harsh measures that foreign investors will flee hyperventilating to Venezuela, Peru or North Korea. They also underestimate the need employers have for a stable and qualified work force. No company will thrive if it functions as a pigeon house where workers fly in and out all the time.
The demand that foreign investors should park a certain amount of money in a bank account as a cushion for employees in case things go south is a sure way to destroy the investment climate. It will of course keep investors with bad intentions at bay, but it will deter other companies from even thinking about investing in St. Maarten.
The idea that our economy does not need foreign investors is ludicrous and naive. If our island wants to build its economy beyond the cruise ships and the tourists, it must build bridges (no, not that one across the lagoon) and it must reach out to foreign investors. There is no other way, because our country is financially not strong enough to make serious investments on its own.
It is bad to be dependent on others? Working together with partners who share our ideals and our vision is a win-win situation. But to arrive at that stage, we must first develop that vision. So far, we have heard for years that there is a need to diversify, but we have never seen a concrete example of how this could be done.
For all we know, there are a series of brilliant projects about to become a reality, but if this is so, they are among the best kept secrets in St. Maarten.
Our politicians would do well to subject themselves to a reality check. What do we want and how are we going to get what we want? While our MPs ponder the answers, we ask them to keep the following in mind: chasing foreign investors to more hospitable countries in the region is absolutely not the solution.

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