Subdued atmosphere at first anniversary of country St. Maarten

POSTED: 10/11/11 1:28 PM

Minister Meyers: “It is like a funeral in here”

St. Maarten – The parliament marked the first anniversary of country St. Maarten yesterday with a special meeting, but the atmosphere was far from celebratory. “What a difference a year makes,” Tourism and Telecom Minister Franklin Meyers said. “It’s like a funeral in here.”
That remark came after independent MP Frans “Richardson and National Alliance leader William Marlin had launched some highly critical observations about the state of affairs in country St. Maarten.
Richardson, the first speaker on the list, said that country status had been championed as a way to improve life for everybody. “Many shortcomings were blamed on the central government and on the lack of resources. Many in our community today still feel left out and abandoned. They have seen no improvement in their lives; neither do they foresee any progress in the foreseeable future.”
Richardson did not leave it at that. “The question is, why are we in this situation? People feel alienated from the concept of a country. It’s a genuine sentiment. The excuses of the past cannot be used any longer. People experience many social ills and hardships. This requires a combined effort of our society and the government, because right now, too many people are on the sidelines.”
National Alliance leader William Marlin started by criticizing the fact that October 10 had not been declared a national holiday. “I propose to put this in place starting in 2012.”
Like Richardson, Marlin also contemplated the change country status has brought to the island. “By becoming a country the people would be better off. But are they? The answer most of our citizens would give to that question is a resounding no.”
Marlin dismissed the proverbial expression of “let’s forget our differences and move forward.” The NA-leader said that this expression would be heard a lot. “But exactly these differences between the opposition and the government we cannot forget and ignore. These differences hamper the development of St. Maarten. People are looking forward to change; this is not happening, and there are no signs that it will happen soon.”
Marlin referred to the situation of the pensioners, the postal workers and all those who have been cut off from social benefits. “Today, they cannot forget our differences,” he said. Marlin also took aim at the high electricity bills, and the promises about reducing the fuel-clause. “But affordable electricity bills are not happening either,” he said.
The opposition leader also blasted the parliament, saying that the organization is not living up to the standards of good governance. There are no minutes of meetings, and the rules of order are not followed, he said.
Lastly, Marlin criticized members of the cabinet for not being supportive of the high councils of state, like the Council of Advice. “Some ministers want to do away with them because they say that these councils are hampering the development of St. Maarten.”
United People’s Party faction leader Romain Laville conceded that it would be “far-fetched to pretend that everything would be fine after one year, adding that “Rome wasn’t built in one day either.” He compared building a country to the stock market. “It will go up and down.”
Laville noted that the lives of the people have been affected in different ways. He mentioned benefits for the elderly, but he also noted the everyday ills of young people being locked up. “Is that the fault of this government or are these the effects of the transition to country status?” he said.
Laville made his familiar call to put party politics aside. “We have to ask ourselves: what are we here for? What are our responsibilities? If the lives of the people do not improve, the country is in a downward spiral.”
Tourism and Telecom Minister Franklin Meyers had a more optimistic take on the past twelve months. “On 10-10-10 there was a buzz of achievement, but there was also the awareness that the road ahead was not going to be easy. But there is no success without struggle, and today we live in that reality. I find it irresponsible to claim that our electricity bills became high after 10-10-10. What a difference a year makes.”
Then, with a reference to remarks made by Frans Richardson and William Marlin, Meyers said, “It’s almost like we are at a funeral.”
The Minister said that it is time to look at what parties have in common. “That would be the people of St. Maarten,” he answered his own question. We have to be serious about the development of St Maarten. I am going to celebrate today, because we have achieved a lot, and we have come a long way. But we need all hands on deck, otherwise we will perish as a whole.”
Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto referred in a brief address to the “underdeveloped and understaffed civil service. “I thank all civil servants for their efforts,” he said.
The Minister pointed out that St. Maarten is required to have a balanced budget, “while major countries do not manage to balance theirs.”
Education Minister Rhoda Arrindell said that the first year of country St. Maarten has been “rather disappointing,” adding that “10-10-10 was seen as a magic wand, a day of great expectation.”
Arrindell said that ten is the number of perfection in many cultures. What about the triple ten? “The grim reality is that we are far from perfection. The people of St. Maarten voted to take their destiny into their own hands. Is that what we got? St. Maarten has to grow up and take responsibility for its own actions. The ultimate goal for any country is freedom – and for St. Maarten that is very much a work in progress.”
Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said that the countdown to country status on the evening of October 9 of last year is something she remembers with extreme pride. “But did everything get off to a smooth start? Absolutely not, but our country is taking shape. Our focus must be the creation of a vision for St. Maarten that takes everyone into account. This requires a collective mindset,” the Prime Minister said. “So far, we have met our challenges head-on, and there are more challenges ahead.”

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