Governor’s Address 2022 Delivered On the Occasion of the Opening Of the Parliamentary Year 2022-2023 by the Governor of Sint Maarten His Excellency Drs. Eugene B. Holiday

September 14, 2022 2:25 pm

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Today September 13th, 2022, we gather here in conformity with our constitutional obligation to open the new parliamentary year and present the government’s agenda for the coming year. This recurring annual event on the second Tuesday of September marks the start of the new political year. It underscores the duties and responsibilities of Parliament and government within our parliamentary democracy.

The new parliamentary year 2022-2023 is the thirteenth parliamentary year since the birth of our country on October 10th, 2010. And I have had the distinct privilege to have participated in all thirteen, in my capacity as Governor of Sint Maarten. And today will be my last in that capacity for the opening of the new parliamentary year. It is my pleasure to congratulate all parliamentarians and the people of Sint Maarten with the opening of the new parliamentary year. It is at national moments like these that we come together as one people to reflect on our common interests and aspirations for a strong and united Sint Maarten.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

The opening of this new parliamentary year comes on the heels of the fifth anniversary of hurricane IRMA and two and a half years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Two disasters which have severely eroded the economic and financial foundation of our country and as a result affected the lives and livelihood of our people. The impact of these disasters will be felt for a long, long time to come. Too many persons have lost loved ones because of COVID-19, the health risks are ever present, the education of our children has been disrupted, and government’s financial position has suffered as reflected in the increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio from 43.3% in 2019 to an estimated 63.1% this year. The impact of these disasters reminds us, all of us, members of the coalition, members of the opposition and government of the need, the need to work together to strengthen our country’s social, economic, and financial foundation.

With the COVID-19 pandemic transitioning into an endemic phase, life around the world is returning to normal and the demand for travel is strong. As a result, the outlook for our economy is improving and we are recovering some of the lost ground. It is expected that the economy will expand by 8% in 2022 and that it will grow further in 2023 by 7.5%. These positive developments are however, being dampened by increasing world inflation fueled by a surge in global oil and commodity prices caused by supply chain disruptions and by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Given our dependence on the import of oil and other goods, inflation on Sint Maarten is expected to increase to 6% in 2022. This increase in the cost of living is posing serious challenges, particularly for our elderly, our unemployed and low-income earners.

Hurricane Irma, the COVID-19 pandemic and now the global inflation crisis, are reminders of our vulnerability to external shocks and the need to get our house in order to strengthen our country’s social, economic, and financial foundation.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

The Government, taking these developments into consideration, has been working with the Netherlands through the World Bank Trust Fund and Country Package Reforms to improve our country’s economic and financial resilience. Central to government’s policy agenda for the coming year is to link and bring all ongoing projects, as mentioned in the Country package, under the umbrella of the National Development Vision. Government is therefore currently planning an inclusive launch of the National Development Vision. This launch will ensure that all partners, internal and external, are included in the outcome. It ensures that policy measures are consistent within the context of Sint Maarten.

Noteworthy is that the first steps towards developing Sint Maarten’s National Development Plan, under the current National Development Vision, have been taken. The goal is to present the National Development Plan in the first part of 2023. This should improve Sint Maarten’s chances of anchoring a sustainable future.

Important pre-requisites for National Development include:
• First, taking steps to have the data necessary for monitoring and evaluation as well as to having the necessary structures in place to do such.
• And second, capacity building and strengthening of the Public Administration.
Both therefore constitute major components of Government’s reforms as reflected in the implementation agenda. The results from the population census which is scheduled to be completed this year is expected to provide important data input for the national development plan. And capacity building is envisioned from a multi-pronged approach, namely strengthening of local expertise and technical assistance to support the development of the action points.

Government is at the same time investing in its ICT infrastructure. From an ICT perspective, Government will continue focusing on strengthening the organization’s infrastructure, improving the cybersecurity environment, and digitizing business processes. In that regard, the emphasis for the remainder of 2022 and the start of 2023, will be on:
1) Improving Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity.
2) Introducing additional security features, including a cybersecurity awareness program.
3) And continued digitization to improve the efficiency of service delivery.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Capacity building must start with our children by offering quality learning opportunities in terms of education facilities and programs. Government is therefore working on the implementation of the USD.26.8 million Fostering Resilient Learning Project funded by the Trust Fund at the World Bank. The grant agreement for this project was signed in June 2022. The project is comprised of the following key components:
1) Rebuilding Inclusive Schools;
2) Restoring Library Services;
3) Strengthening of the Management Information System in education, culture, youth and sports;
4) Contingent Emergency Response; and
5) Project Management.
The goals of the project are to foster data-driven decisions, monitor and enhance the education, culture, youth and sports services for schools, teachers, students, and citizens, support procedures that protect youth and children's rights with digitalization and enhance the resilience within the sectors.

Other priorities include working towards:
a. The USD.7.05 million Emergency Recovery Program 1 (ERP1), for school repairs which will be supplemented with funds for school gyms and sports facilities.
b. The development of a More Efficient, Effective School Bussing Service policy including the fleet tracking system for student transportation; and
c. The provision of computers for students and teachers, and digital boards for all classrooms in public schools.

In keeping with its capacity building agenda, Government is committed to supporting opportunities for higher education, such as the Professional Development Program at the University of St. Martin (USM/UVI) for teachers with dispensation. The program started with 21 participants in January of 2022. It assists school boards in providing opportunities for teachers.

It is government’s policy to support its capacity building efforts with nation building activities. Government is therefore engaged in the development of policies as part of Sint Maarten’s obligations to international treaties on the registration and protection of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Noteworthy in this regard is the ongoing work to establish and promote Philipsburg as a “Cultural Capital”. This endeavor is taking place in close collaboration with the creative industries as a viable supplement to the tourism industry and thus helps develop our national Orange Economy. Intertwined with this undertaking is the aspiration to participate in the upcoming CARIFESTA and bring CARIFESTA to Sint Maarten before 2030.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

As we transition from the COVID-19 pandemic to normalcy, Government is urging our population to remain vigilant as we face other global health risks such as monkey pox and the resurgence of polio. Based on our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic we can draw lessons for the future. Lessons regarding the importance of adhering to measures, such as proper hygiene, wearing masks and getting vaccinated. Through August 2022 some 28,463 persons have been vaccinated in the fight against COVID-19. Government hereby commends the entire population and in particular those persons who have been on the front line in the fight against COVID-19.

In addition to the efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and transition to normalcy, government is continuing to pursue steps to secure and improve the provision of public health services to the population. These steps include:
1. The development of a Non-Communicable Disease Plan to prevent and control highly prevalent diseases on Sint Maarten, such as diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases. This plan lays the groundwork for many of the projects that will be rolled out in the future.
2. The finalization of the first phase of new legislation regarding the Pharmaceutical Cost Containment Program to reduce the cost of medication in Sint Maarten.
3. The recent increase in the wage limit under the National ordinance Health and Accident insurance to NAf.120,000 to improve the financial viability of the healthcare funds.
4. And the endorsement of the 1,000 smiles SXM pilot project initiated by the Sint Maarten Development Fund to provide free dental service to at least 1,000 persons who have limited resources.

In addition, government is facilitating health care providers with their efforts to develop new health care facilities and programs. Noteworthy in this regard are:
a. First, the ongoing construction of the new Sint Maarten General Hospital, of which the foundation and retaining wall have been completed.
b. Second, the recently established and Government endorsed Dutch Caribbean Hospital Alliance between hospitals of the Dutch Caribbean. The alliance will allow the hospitals within the Kingdom to provide affordable basic health care, combined procurement for medication and equipment, sharing of specialized medical professionals and training of medical personnel to give the best quality of care.
c. And third, the plans for the construction of a new state of the art facility in St. John’s Estate to meet the mental health care needs of the population. Government has as a result helped to secure the approval of the funding for the project from the World Bank Trust Fund.

In the area of social affairs, Government is committed to strengthening and expanding the safety nets available for our vulnerable population. Important policy initiatives are among others:
1. The launch of a survey on social and economic conditions, the socio-economic needs assessment, to gather information which will be used for the planning and development of policies.
2. The relaunch of the 2017 Home Repair program, which targets the most vulnerable groups in our community who do not have the means to repair their homes, such as the elderly, single parents and the 11.2% unemployed.
3. The establishment of a commercial kitchen to feed school children and the vulnerable population.
4. And the commissioning of the official policy through legislation and procedures to strengthen Government’s response to combat Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, and Gender based Violence.

In addition, faced with financial constraints Government, given the increase in the cost of living, recently rolled out its Max Price Program to give much needed relief to the community, by ensuring that 72 of the basic goods remain at a reasonable price. For a successful max price system data has been collected from importers and retailers on cost, to ensure prices remain reasonable for the consumer and that businesses do not operate at a loss.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

To be effective Government’s social policies must be supported by initiatives that foster a healthy and secure living environment for the population. The environment of our island does not only reflect how we live, but also contributes to our overall well-being. Government’s core goal and vision for 2022 – 2023, is to develop a suitable legislative and regulatory framework for proper environmental and infrastructure management with institutional systems to respond to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

To realize its objectives government has completed the updating of the Building Code in 2021. The code was prepared under the project Building Back Better with the assistance of the International chapter of the Association of Dutch Municipalities. It is aimed at strengthening the resilience of our built environment to withstand stronger hurricanes and other natural disasters. The new building code is scheduled to go into effect following an educational trajectory for the relevant stakeholders planned for the fourth quarter of 2022.

In the meantime, government has continued in 2022 with major renovation work to severely damaged social housing in Belvedere because of IRMA. This is part of the Emergency Recovery Project (ERP-1) under the Dutch financed Trust Fund, at the World Bank. In total, 64 apartment units in the six residential towers of Sint Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) are being renovated.

Government is also updating our country’s environmental standards. With the update a foundation will be laid for pursuing policies to protect and improve the quality of our living environment. By implementing environmental standards, government, companies, and residents will know what is expected of them in terms of protecting the environment and dealing with the environment in a safe and sustainable manner. Noteworthy in this regard is the inter-ministerial approach to address and resolve the ongoing sewage/septic issues that have been plaguing members of the community for many years.

Our marine and coastal resources require a sustainable management approach as well. Government is therefore executing a Coastal Resilience Needs Assessment project until June 2023 through the Resilience, Sustainable Energy and Marine Biodiversity program. The specific objectives of the project are to enhance the capacity of Government for evidence-based policy development and to increase the knowledge and willingness of the public to engage in sustainable practices.

In addition, Government continues to work on improving the management of the Landfill. The preparation works for the establishment of the Temporary Debris Sorting and Recovery facility is in the final stages. With the establishment of the facility, the process can begin to sort, reduce and remove the Irma Debris Site. After lengthy consultations and discussions with all stakeholders the draft Resettlement Action Plan for the community living in the area was finalized in the first quarter of 2022.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Providing for a safe and secure living environment through the maintenance of the rule of law is an essential component of Government’s policy agenda. Government is as a result committed to making structural improvements in law enforcement. Important priorities include:
1) First, the ongoing work to complete legislation regulating the legal position of the personnel in the justice chain, in general, and of the police, in particular.
2) Second, the implementation of an educational program for all law enforcement personnel to strengthen the justice chain. To oversee and coordinate this process, government has employed a Course Coordinator. The objective is to establish the Law Enforcement Institute of Sint Maarten. Noteworthy is the successful completion of four graduation ceremonies and one inauguration ceremony at KPSM, Customs and the Point Blanche Prison and House of Detention from May 2021 to July 2022 despite the challenges of COVID-19.
3) And third, the ongoing investments in the Point Blanche house of detention to upgrade the facilities. Important progress has been made during 2021-2022 under the guidance of a new prison director and prison management team and with the support of a Program Manager financed by the Dutch Government. At the same time significant steps have been taken in the preparations for the construction of a new prison.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

To support Government’s policy agenda, it is imperative that the economy produces the required revenues. In the post-COVID-19 context, the focus of Government has been to stimulate the economy by attracting investors, by supporting small businesses and through tourism recovery. Our economy remains highly dependent on tourism. Attracting tourists therefore continues to be the primary goal of Government’s economic agenda for 2022 and beyond.

The emphasis for 2022 will be on diversification of tourist products, including a focus on:
- the market for Meeting Incentives Conferences and Exhibition (MICE);
- sports tourism; and
- adventure tourism.
These initiatives are supplemented by aggressive marketing and collaboration with airline industry partners to develop a six-year airline route development plan.

In line with the overarching strategy for increasing tourism arrivals, government will continue its efforts to expand options for tourists and to improve visitor’s experience. Opportunities in that regard include:
- First, the completion of the reconstruction of the airport’s terminal building as a top priority.
- Second, the further enhancement of the homeporting service.
- And third, the beautification and clean-up of the Philipsburg area.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

To finance its policy agenda as envisioned in its National Development Vision it is imperative that Government takes steps to raise the necessary funds and to put the country on a financially more solid foundation. As a result of hurricane Irma and the COVID-19 pandemic Government has been and continues to be cash-strapped. In 2022 the approved budget deficit amounted to NAf.124 million. Meanwhile the multi-annual forecasts project budget deficits through 2027. Government has as a result relied heavily on Dutch financing through the Trust Fund at the World Bank to fund several economic recovery projects and on liquidity loans to cover the budgets shortfalls. Whereas the government did not require liquidity support in the first half of 2022 due to the positive economic developments, liquidity support of approximately NAf.50 million is foreseen for the second half of this year.

Government is therefore working on making our country more financially strong and economically resilient. This is being pursued by improving, standardizing, streamlining and automating the financial processes to provide the people of Sint Maarten with accurate and relevant information. Given our country’s financial situation we must realize the urgency to better control our finances and the imperative of modernizing our tax legislation aimed at generating more revenues.

Essential in this regard is that Government has developed its Road Map to Financial Management. Important initiatives are:
1) The implementation of tax reforms to generate more revenues.
2) The measures taken to eliminate the backlog in the publication of the annual accounts.
3) And the steps to improve the budget process aimed at timely delivery of the budget. These steps also include the implementation of a policy-based budget to ensure alignment with the National Development Vision. This allows for government to prioritize and sequence its policy actions to match available funding while seeking ways to generate or attract additional funds.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Five years after hurricane Irma and two and a half years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic our economy is starting to show positive signs. A lot however remains to be done. The Government is committed to continue to work closely with the Netherlands, the World Bank, parliament, businesses, and the people of Sint Maarten to speed up the urgently needed recovery and resilience efforts and reforms to return Sint Maarten to its position as a beacon of prosperity in the region.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Together with Government, you have requested the people of our beautiful, unique nation-island to trust you with the management and supervision of their affairs and you have pledged to always, always dedicate yourselves to foster the wellbeing of the people of Sint Maarten. As we look to the future and the challenges ahead it is therefore imperative that Government and Parliament engage in meaningful efficient dialogue and effective decision making in the interest of our people and country. You are in that regard reminded that if you do not do so, who do you expect to do it. You have thus been entrusted with the profound responsibility to serve the public interest on behalf of all Sint Maarteners. It is you task and responsibility and I hope you step up to the plate and do so.

In this new parliamentary year, government will therefore present you with various legislative initiatives towards the execution of its plans and realization of its objectives. As representatives of the people of Sint Maarten, government looks forward to your participation and your support to serve the public interest on behalf of the people of Sint Maarten.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Thus, as you deliberate and decide on the issues that will come before you in the period ahead, I wish you much wisdom, strength, and God’s speed.

Thank you, God Bless you and May God Bless our Beloved Sint Maarten and protect its coast.