“We continue status quo” Pantophlet full of promises and short on new ideas

POSTED: 06/28/12 12:07 PM


St. Maarten – Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation and Telecommunications Romeo Pantophlet delivered a policy statement on Wednesday that was filled with promises and had a grand total of zero new ideas or initiatives. The minister spent his first month in office “communicating our (government’s) vision to the departments within the ministry, to the public at large and private stakeholders.”

Relief
Pantophlet’s commitments begin with a promise to give economic relief by increase the number of controllers and doing price controls. This will be coupled with significantly increasing the number of goods in the basket of essential items.
“We intend to increase items on that list that will increase the health of St. Maarten people. Therefore we’ll focus on fruits and vegetables and some basic meat products like poultry and pork chops. So we’re going to be increasing the basket of goods within short,” the minister said.
Some of the other relief measures are a meeting with the board of Gebe on the company’s fuel clause and continuing to adjust fuel prices to match the global trends.
“Since taking office you’ll notice there are some downward trends on the world market as far as fuel prices are concerned and they’re affecting the prices here locally so the fuel prices are going down,” the minister said.

Stimulation/Diversification
“We also intend to stimulate business. We intend to streamline business license requests and eliminate a backlog. There is a huge backlog in licenses to be distributed ranging more than 600 licenses at present. We intend to tackle that head on and employ some workers on a short term basis to take in that backlog and get those licenses out. We also intend to diversify the economy. St. Maarten depends heavily on one industry – tourism. I think it’s dangerous to rely on one product so we’re going to have to work hard on diversifying the economy so we can introduce other areas where people can do business,” Pantophlet went on to say.
The planned diversification will focus on establishment of a securities and exchange commission that will oversee the country’s stock exchange, off shore banking, registering vessels, ships and airplanes and making St. Maarten a hub in the Caribbean region.
Government is also “seriously going to be embarking on making financing available for small and micro-businesses on the island to stimulate entrepreneurship” in the coming period. Pantophlet discussed this point with the Development Bank of the Netherlands Antilles last week. Some of the funding will be channeled through Postpaarbank and the Small Business Development Foundation amongst others.
“We also intend to meet with the banking community to discuss interest rates. Worldwide interest rates are going down and we feel St. Maarten should be no different,” the minister said.

Unemployment
The government also wants to focus on “dramatically bringing down the staggering unemployment rate (12.5 percent)” by ensuring local contractors and people have work on projects like the causeway, the port and the airport. The latter is reportedly getting ready for a new project Pantophlet did not name.
“We will be focusing on ensuring that our local contractors and local workers get work at those various projects. It has to be so that the people of St. Maarten should participate in the economic growth of this country,” the minister said.
Asked specifically about ensuring local participation in the construction of the causeway Pantophlet said, “At this point the discussion we’ve had is with the Managing Director of the port Mark Mingo and once we get the project going officially in two weeks we’ll be going over to having direct talks with the contractors, but one of the conditions is that local contractors must be part of the work.”

Tourism
Though there are plans for diversification the government also plans to maintain focus on the country’s current core business – tourism.
“The vision of my ministry is to do away with the six month contracts – the seasonal work. Our vision is to make sure St. Maarten has year round employment. We are going to concentrate heavily on the South American market, the northern European market and of course the Caribbean and markets in the US like the Eastern seaboard where we will be concentrating on all types of modern and different types of marketing to attract visitors to our shores. We’re also going to be concentrating heavily on making the passengers that come here on cruise ships become stay over tourists,” Pantophlet said.
Later he’d add, “In South America we will focus on Brazil, Chile, Peru, Panama. That has our full attention. We’ve invited a television crew to come over from Brazil in the next two weeks to do a shoot over here so we can start marketing St. Maarten in the South American market because that’s the solution to our off season. We’re in conversation with Air Berlin and Gol. They are both very interested.”
Government also intends to assist small hotels and guest houses. They will offer financing for upgrading, introduce a rating system and promote and facilitate visitors from other islands by offering packages and “easier” visas.
The administration also plans to establish the St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA) within short. The effort includes a visit to Aruba on July 11 to look at their tourism authority.
“We don’t have to re-invent the wheel and we can learn from their mistakes and get the STA up and running. We don’t intend to make any drastic changes. We continue status quo. As we go along we see how people progress and how the work is progressing and they will be their own judge,” Pantophlet said.
The administration will also move forward with opening tourism offices in New York and Miami.
“The folks in the Miami will set up the New York Office for us and train the people for one year. That should be taking place within short. By next year we should be fully operational in New York, but within the next two months or so the training should start.” Pantophlet said.

Civil Service
“We will be focusing heavily on the improvement of customer service at the government departments. The customer service needs to be helped out a lot. The public have to be made to feel comfortable and we have to make the civil servants know that we are here to serve them, offer them a good service and respect them,” the minister also said yesterday.

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