Third anniversary autonomous status Marlin wants national holiday on October 10

POSTED: 10/11/13 2:09 PM

St. Maarten – Two years ago, during the parliament’s commemoration of its first anniversary as an autonomous country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands the atmosphere was subdued. “It is like a funeral in here,” Franklin Meyers, at the time Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs remarked on that occasion. Last year the parliament was in a better mood: coming together, action instead of words, a vision for the country’s future were the themes faction leaders most elaborated on. That trend continued this year, even though here and there the charged term “integrity” could be heard. The place was decorated with blue and pale orange balloons – no party colors there – and the parliament had invited Henny Eman, the first Prime Minister of Aruba, for a keynote address.

UP-leader Theo Heyliger made his first appearance as a Member of Parliament after the departure of Dr. Ruth Douglass, though he later left speaking to his party’s interim faction leader Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce. Notably absent were MPs Louie Laveist, Frans Richardson and Patrick Illidge. Last year the three MPs did not attend either.

Governor Drs. Eugene Holiday was there, as was the complete Council of Ministers; the tribune was packed with representatives from the high councils of state, the court, the police and other government entities and from the private sector. In the audience were also two key players in the constitutional reform process, former Lt. Governor Ralph Richardson and the former Minister of Constitutional Affairs of the Netherlands Antilles, Richard Gibson Sr.

Rochana Richardson and Sakir de Castro of the youth newspaper Teen Times gave a joint presentation. “We cannot say that the youth is optimistic about the direction of this country but we have not given up hope,” Richardson said.

She also explained how young people stand in the world of today: ‘We are more connected than ever before. Teens have access to ideas that are changing the world. We can access the entire world at the click of a button.”

Richardson continued to point out that crucial shift in the way we understand education is necessary. “We know that the largest part of the budget goes to education, but how are we educating the future of this country?”

“Young people in any country represent the future of that country,” De Castro added. “We have a vital role to play in the development of our country. To ensure the active participation of the youth in the development of the country they need to be supported and encouraged by the government and the private sector and  most importantly, by the community and their parents.”

Henny Eman reflected on Aruba’s history and the actions that led to its departure from the Netherlands Antilles and its status aparte in 1986. Already in the thirties the island –stricken by hunger and poverty, felt that it needed more governmental authority to deal with its problems, Eman said. “At that time every matter, even very small and simple things concerning our island were decided in Curacao. If the administration in Aruba needed a typewriter, the decision had to be made in Curacao and if it was approved they would send a second hand one.”

The political movement – seperashon – sought a departure from the powers in Curacao, and autonomy within the Kingdom. When this finally came about in 1986, the refinery went out of business, creating 30 percent unemployment and the government lost half of its income. “We did not get any compensation from Holland.”

“If it was not for the status aparte Aruba would not have been able to overcome the crisis,” Eman added. “It gave us the tools we needed to turn things around.”

Together with the International Monetary Fund Aruba learned to look at its new reality. “Without the refinery and without any natural resources could not maintain its level. Salaries and minimum wages were too high.”

The country opted for developing a service and hotel industry that attracted foreign investors and soon led to a shortage of workers on the island.

“We have surely grown over the last three years, but that growth has not come without pain,” Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said. “We continue to have growing pains and we have had the experience of not being able to stand fully on our own two feet as of 10-10-10-. We will continue to experience the pain of a growing country, of developing. Looking back I can say that St. Maarten can be grateful for the decision we made that led to the attainment of country status on 10-10-10.”

National Alliance faction leader William Marlin thanked Eman for his “words of wisdom and caution.” He noted that Aruba too had had to deal with integrity issues.

Marlin said that, though constitution day is supposed to be a celebration, it was “almost business as usual in town.” He again urged the parliament to designate October 10 as a national holiday.

Diving into the country’s constitutional history, Marlin brought up memories of the 1994 referendum – when the islands decided to stay within the Netherlands Antilles, and St. Maarten’s referendum of 2000, when the people voted for autonomy within the Kingdom.

“Much still needs to be achieved,” Marlin said at the end of his address.  “Our financial house needs to be out in order, and issues of integrity need to be addressed.”

UP interim faction leader Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce focused on unfinished challenges and especially on social issues, like price control and the business environment. “Businesses are downsizing, properties are auctioned,” she noted.

DP faction leader Roy Marlin said he had absorbed every word of Eman’s speech, also because it reflects on what St. Maarten experienced on its way to autonomy between 1994 and 2010.

Independent MP Romain Laville concluded that constitution day should not be a day of celebration but one of reflection.

After the session in parliament there was a church service at the New Testament Baptist church in Philipsburg.


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