Opinion: Positive Change

POSTED: 05/6/14 10:50 AM

So what is it that Citizens for Positive Change – or CPC, for short – have to offer to our electorate come August 29? The upstart party, with environmentalist Rueben Thompson as its political leader, identifies nine priority areas in its manifesto – a clear piece that leaves little doubt where the party wants to go.

The manifesto mentions three social issues (poverty, healthcare and education), three environmental issues (waste management, pollution and conservation), and three economic issues (tourism, fiscal / public spending and diversification).

The manifesto makes a good point by stating that it is impossible to regulate poverty in such a way that it will disappear. Instead, CPC wants a concerted effort that focuses on employment, education and on space to create opportunities. At the basis are a clear fiscal structure and a clear structure for public spending. CPC wants to stimulate “productive investing in sustainable initiatives” and sees this as a way to create private sector jobs.

A recurring remark in the manifesto targets bureaucracy. The government is there to facilitate, and regulations are to be kept to a minimum, the party states. This philosophy also spills over into its view on healthcare, where “a lot of bureaucracy is involved” and where “resources do not go to providing care.” CPC says there is room for improvement: “Are we better off with an oncologist or a health inspector?”

It is unclear what CPC means by its suggestion to introducer “co-payment” but this could point to an insurance system whereby patients pay part of their doctor’s bills. CPC also wants incentives for healthy lifestyle choices. That sounds sympathetic and logical, yet this is a road paved with pitfalls. The main question would be: how do you define a healthy lifestyle, and how do citizens prove that they stick to it?

CPC wants to hand more authority to the St. Maarten Medical Center “and stop paying for excessive bureaucracy.” If this resulted in better healthcare at a better price – who could oppose such an idea?

In the field of education, CPC wants to “update the curriculum to meet modern demands” and to tailor it to the island’s specific needs.

With Thompson at the helm, CPC will obviously put a strong emphasis on environmental issues. Waste management is the first priority according to the manifesto – with garbage separation and recycling as the focal points. The party also wants to create “clear incentives” for creating less waste. “Maybe waste-to-energy is an option too, but even that type of plant will need garbage separated first. There is room here for entrepreneurship and employment,” the manifesto states.

Pollution is another hot topic, and rightly so: CPC will address littering, the pollution of the Great Salt Pond and pollution in the marine environment.

CPC wants to zone areas for conservation and combine this with areas for recreational use. The party envisions gardens and park settings, playgrounds, sports courts and picnic areas in the districts. “Historical landmarks will be incorporated as much as possible.”

Diversification of the economy should not take priority over improving the country’s tourism product, the CPC states in its chapter about the economy. A tourism authority is part of the vision.

Thompson’s CPC wants to move away from taxation on income and profits towards taxation on consumption. Such a system would obviously put more money in people’s pockets, giving them the freedom to consume according to their needs and wishes. The CPC wants to replace the turnover tax with a value added tax. This will, in the party’s view “create equitable space within our economy for entrepreneurs to be productive.”

The CPC wants to levy duties on imported goods, though it is unclear what this would achieve. According to the manifesto the idea is “to make sure that foreign entities selling goods here are subjected to the same taxes as locally registered companies.” While this might be a valid point, it could also result in higher prices for consumers on imported goods.

The CPC wants to put an end to tax holidays and to ensure an equal distribution of incentives. “If we need to offer cheaper rooms, we could reduce room tax across the board, not provide one or two large properties with an exemption.”

An interesting point in the manifesto is a drive for transparency about public spending. The CPC wants an easily accessible public record for everything the government pays or gets paid for.

And then there is of course the government’s inefficiency (in the way it spends tax money) to tackle, and the CPC wants to go for it. “There have been decades of studies and reports with hefty price tags that do not address the core issues. Writing a report will not eradicate poverty, educate a child or create jobs. Stop focusing on bureaucracy and regulating and start doing,” the manifesto states.

Diversification of the economy, especially towards agriculture, is not as simple as it sounds, according to the CPC. “Agriculture is often mentioned. It is possible, but considering land use issues, relatively high costs and zero tariffs on imports, it would need to be heavily subsidized. That creates more dependency on the government instead of less.”

To get around these issues, the CPC suggests a policy with tax breaks for all who sell locally farmed produce, a lower water tariff for farming and schooling about modern farming methods.

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