Governor’s address 2023 Delivered on the occasion of the opening of the Parliamentary year 2023-2024
Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament, Good Morning,
As stipulated in our constitution, I now stand before you on this second Tuesday in September, to set out the policy to be pursued by Government in the coming parliamentary year 2023-2024.
Since 2021, reform measures have been established as part of the mutual agreement with the Netherlands in exchange for financial support, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Structural reforms for the improvement and restructuring of government are in the areas of: Financial Control, Cost and Effectiveness of the Public Sector, Taxes, Financial Sector, Economic Reforms, Health, Education and Strengthening Rule of Law.
From the very beginning, the Government of Sint Maarten has stressed the importance of the National Development Vision as instructions for all of Sint Maarten development, including these reform measures. The areas for reforms connect with the development themes in Sint Maarten’s National Vision.
The National Development Vision harmonizes the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Small Island Developing States development agenda. In order for St. Maarten to be better enabled to monitor and evaluate the achievement of these goals, the sustainable development goals support identifying and guiding development priorities for St. Maarten through the development of a National Development Plan. The first steps towards developing Sint Maarten’s National Development Plan under the current National Development Vision have already started. There is agreement that anchoring all ongoing projects under the umbrella of the National Development Vision, resulting in a National Development Plan, would improve Sint Maarten’s chances of anchoring a sustainable future. Further, with financial- and capacity support through the mutual agreement between the Netherlands and Sint Maarten on priority reform measures, this is the opportune moment for this development. It is Government’s aim and priority to present the National Development Plan in the first part of the year 2024.
In achieving these goals, donor relations also remain a priority of Government. Funding has been secured, mainly from the EU, for several projects aimed at achieving the goals of the National Development Vision. In addition, the department of Interior and Kingdom Relations in the Hague continues to build direct partnerships with stakeholders that are imperative to supporting the sustainable development of St. Maarten. By building these relationships, advocacy and awareness is brought to the developmental needs and ambitions of St. Maarten.
Further in this context, although we live on an island, ‘no man is an island’ as is proverbially said. As a small island, the capacity to achieve our goals, unilaterally, is limited. With this in mind Government will continue engagement with regional organizations and discussions are ongoing and will intensify in the latter part of 2023 with CARICOM, particularly in and around climate, sustainable development and financing, and social affairs, as well as the Caribbean Development Bank and the Organization for Eastern Caribbean States. This engagement will underscore and build support for issues that are important for Sint Maarten internationally.
Government has moved to establish- and where already existing- strengthen relationships with regional governments. The most important of these relationships is with French Sint Maarten and by extension the French Republic. Government along with its relevant partners in the Hague believe that development will be a-miss without including French Sint Maarten. For the first time, Dutch and French Sint Maarten have convened to develop a high-level cooperation strategy. In addition Government recognizes the need for a comprehensive and overarching strategy that harmonizes, aligns and synchronizes the development of the island as a whole. Government believes that collaborative actions will have more impact and allow for the pooling of resources, thereby enhancing common advancement for the people on the Northern and Southern side of the island.
And make no mistake about it, enhancing advancement and progress of the people and our country is much needed at this time and is at the top of the priority list for Government. In this context Government plans to execute balanced macroeconomic fiscal policies and initiatives that aid in the expansion and diversification of Sint Maarten’s economy, provide fiscal sustainability and to be the catalyst for innovation.
The state of the economy in Sint Maarten for 2023 has shown promising signs of recovery and growth. The continuous and gradual increase in visitor arrivals, particularly in stay-over tourism, has contributed to the expansion of hotel occupancy, resulting in positive impacts on employment rates and government revenue. Furthermore, we see new developments in the hospitality industry indicating confidence in the economy and in the tourist industry. Unemployment is on the decline, signifying progress in job creation and workforce participation, providing more opportunities for the local population. The prices for, fuel and electricity had an upward pressure on the general inflation rate. The Central Bank of Curacao and Sint Maarten has projected that inflation will reach a level of 3.7% for 2023, following a decline to 2.2% in 2024.
Over the medium-term inflationary pressures are expected to stabilize around 2.0%. This decrease in inflation, indicates improved economic stability and purchasing power for consumers. However, it is essential to address the recent decrease in GDP after an initial upward trend, as well as to continue monitoring economic indicators to sustain growth in the long term. This decrease can be attributed to an increase in imports of goods and services from both the public and private sectors. Notably, Trust Fund-related imports have played a role in this trend, as the country aims to “catch-up” on construction delays, specifically in projects like the Princess Juliana International Airport Expansion and The Sint Maarten General Hospital. This increase in the economic outlook is due to an increase in activity in the hotels & restaurants, transport, storage & communication, real estate, renting & business activity and the construction sectors. While hotel room inventory will remain comparable to 2022, a slightly higher occupancy rate is expected in 2023. In addition to this the short-term rental of alternative accommodation has also accelerated in 2023. As it pertains to cruise tourism, the Central Bank of Curacao and Sint Maarten expects that this will approach its pre-pandemic level.
In the latest Article four staff report of the IMF it shows, that projected real GDP for 2023 has substantially recovered, with a growth projection of approximately 3%. Over the medium-term growth will ease, with pre-hurricane output now expected to be achieved in 2024. This will also lead to an increase in income for the Country for the coming years.
Although we see an improvement in the financial situation of the Country, the two main objectives in this regard of Government are to better control finances, by improving financial management. And secondly to modernize its tax legislation laws and systems in order to generate more revenue, taking into consideration that the CFT is expecting to see surpluses starting from 2024.
The latter is also driven by the fact that everyone wants an improvement in their standard of living, from those of us that have to work for our money to those whose money works for them. Improvements such as, smooth well-kept roads to drive on, environmentally clean and safe neighborhoods for our children to grow up in, quality education, a sustainable and stable electricity grid and a healthy economy in order for us to make a good living, do business etc. etc.
And we all hold Government, as the one responsible to ensure this improvement. And possibly rightfully so, it’s debatable. Government tackles these wants and needs of the people via the funds coming into its coffers. This poses a challenge to Government because tax compliance, which makes up for the brunt of Government’s income, is low and has been low for some time now. What’s also debatable, is the reason for the low tax compliance, nevertheless to improve compliance and address the wants and needs of the people Government has set in motion, the plans to transform our current tax administration, which also includes the acquiring of portals and a new tax system. Besides the transformation of the tax administration, Government is also looking at adjusting the current fiscal laws and is also in the process of making the necessary fiscal adjustments to register at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in order to collaborate on domestic and international policies that will stimulate the economic progress for Country Sint Maarten.
Government’s efforts in stimulating the economic progress by diversifying the economy beyond traditional tourism, focusing on renewable energy, information technology, and agriculture, present valuable opportunities for future economic growth and sustainability. Government plans to continue to strategically leverage the orange, green and blue economy.
Government, through the Tourist Bureau, is actively seeking ways to diversify the tourist industry. First, via supporting the “orange economy” by organizing and supporting various cultural events that provide opportunities for local artists to showcase their musical talents and visual arts talent. Second, Government is also focused on promoting sport tourism by supporting a variety of events that attract tourists from neighbouring Caribbean countries. This not only boosts our tourism receipts but also increases awareness about our destination as a sports tourism hub. Last, culinary tourism is another area of growth & opportunity for us, with several activities throughout the year that highlight our diverse culinary offerings.
Government’s efforts have been multifaceted to boost tourism in our region including a comprehensive marketing strategy, which involves a number of Co- Op campaigns with Airlines and Online Travel Agents.
Additionally, Government has engaged a number of public relation services in the various regions to market the destination. Collaborating with content creators, Government has focused on producing captivating and informative material to highlight the island’s unique offerings.
Government has plans to commence and finalize the upgrading and reconstruction of the Philipsburg Market Place, Bus Terminal and Beautification of the Philipsburg area.
Government via the Tourism Bureau will continue to focus on airlift development and develop a multi-year airlift development plan in collaboration with the Airport. The focus will be on existing airlines to increase frequency, as well as new airlines from various regions such as the USA, Canada and Europe.
Government in collaboration with the Airport are in the final stages of the official Immigration Entry Form for the country which will improve the Country’s data collecting tremendously as well as the ability to market more effectively. Launch is set for the fourth quarter of 2023.
In the area of Agricultural development government’s plans are:
- Execution of the Memorandum Of Understanding with the other Dutch Caribbean islands/territories to promote mutual agricultural development.
- Support for Farmers’ Market:
- Continued oversight by Government of the implementation of ‘the Agriculture in schools’ project to promote agricultural education among students and
- Various other agricultural initiatives, including a “Train the Trainer” program in Hydroponics, curriculum review to include Agriculture Science in elementary and secondary schools, and the development of an Online Portal for Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries.
Small businesses are the engine of our economy because they are strong economic growth drivers. Government recognizes this and therefore supports this sector in the following manner.
- The Small and Medium sized Enterprises Development Program will be transformed into an Entrepreneurial Development Center with a focus on post-startup services and support.
- Government has partnered with stakeholders to provide opportunities for micro-businesses to showcase their products through fairs and events in Philipsburg at different intervals throughout the year.
Government is also paying keen attention to the developments in the cruise industry regarding lowering their carbon footprint by consuming more sustainable energy, and the possibilities this may offer the Country by providing this sustainable energy to the many cruise vessels that visit our port.
Despite these positive developments, Sint Maarten still faces significant challenges. The vulnerability to external shocks such as natural disasters and global economic downturns, demands continued focus on disaster preparedness and building resilience. Emphasizing sustainable tourism practices will be crucial in preserving the environment and ensuring the tourism industry’s longevity.
Government’s plans on sustainable tourism practices and preserving the environment are as follows.
Government plans the establishment of a nature park encompassing the island of Little Key in the Simpson Bay Lagoon.
The proposed establishment of the Little Key Nature Park aligns with Sint Maarten’s Draft Development Plan for Simpson Bay, which designates the island as “Nature” and the surrounding waters as “Water-Natural Value.” These designations emphasize the commitment to conserve, restore, develop, and manage the natural and ecological values of the area, with restrictions on construction and emphasis on nature-oriented recreational activities.
In Partnership with the St. Maarten Nature Foundation, Government developed the CORENA project Coastal Resilience Needs Assessment, for funding through the Resilience, Sustainable Energy and Marine Biodiversity program.
The goal of project CORENA is to advance progress towards the sustainable and resilient area-based spatial management of the marine and coastal environment of Sint Maarten. The project will achieve this by executing a number of studies around the marine and coastal environment, including baseline biodiversity assessments, socio-economic valuations, and an assessment of coastal and marine risks and vulnerabilities.
Through this project, Government staff will also receive capacity training in basic and advanced GIS (Geographic Information System) analysis, supporting the future development of evidence-based policies for the sustainable development of Sint Maarten. Furthermore, the project will carry out a targeted education and awareness campaign and conduct research into effective behavioral change interventions. Project CORENA is currently beginning its formal implementation and is projected to run until the end of April 2024. In addition to this project Government has collaborated on and co-funded with the Harbor and the Sint Maarten Marine Trade Association, an Economic Impact Study of the Maritime Industry.
In order to improve the management of solid waste, Government has initiated the Integrated Solid Waste Management Sint Maarten project. The objective is the establishment of a Solid Waste Authority that will be responsible for all elements of the solid waste management system consisting of the introduction of tariffs, the collection of fees and the subsequent management of the solid waste, through a solid waste authority in the coming five years.
The project is on track to deliver”amon’st others:
A proposed legal form for the solid waste authority; The necessary draft legislation and; A Vision on solid waste management for Sint Maarten in 2030.
Government’s policy plans on disaster preparedness and building resilience encompasses a varied range of areas from disaster management in itself, fostering resilience learning to building codes and ICT.
Preparations are in process for a Memorandum of Understanding between Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten to strengthen the working relationship in the field of disaster management. It has been realized that the dependencies between these three islands are such, that such an MoU is vital.
Recently, the Kingdom Council of Ministers has approved the accession of Sint Maarten to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency as a full- fledged Participating State. It is expected that this accession will be formalized during this parliamentary year. This will allow Sint Maarten to further integrate into the regional disaster management community, as well as share experiences and build capacity.
Government is embarking on a project that will secure the development of the framework for the institutional structure for the Office of Disaster Management.
This will include implementing processes, administrative procedures, roles and responsibilities for the proposed Office of Disaster Management in keeping with regional and international best practices. This will ensure that a harmonized and comprehensive approach to resilience is taken to better address the challenges posed by climate change, new diseases, and changing socio-economic contexts.
The Fostering Resilient Learning Project, which has received a funding allocation of 26.8 million USD from the Trust Fund, is making steady progress. The project is actively engaged in three main components: Rebuilding of Inclusive Schools, Restoring Library Services, and Strengthening the Management Information System in education, culture, youth and sports.
Moving on in 2023 and into 2024, the project aims to conduct workshops to build the capacity of stakeholders in developing maintenance plans for the newly constructed facilities.
Overall, the Fostering Resilient Learning Project seeks to improve the resilience of the education sector and enhance services in education, culture, youth and sport for the betterment of society. The situation analysis and target group assessment has been finalized and will be incorporated in the special needs policy that will inform the special needs program for the new to be constructed schools, anticipating the opening of the doors in 2025 for the Sister Marie Laurence school and in 2026 for the Charles Leopold Bell School.
The ‘Child Resilience and Protection Project’ with an allotted amount of 5 million USD continues to be implemented by the UNICEF-Netherlands in close collaboration with Government. The project’s focus is on building child resilience and strengthening the systems and institutions for child protection.
Government is currently in the final stages of having the new national building code implemented and intends to do this before the end of this year. Once the building code is implemented, Sint Maarten will build in accordance with new building regulations that are aimed to reinforce our built environment and make buildings more safe, resilient and sustainable to withstand higher category hurricanes and other natural disasters.
From an ICT perspective, Government will continue with its focus on: First, strengthening the organization’s infrastructure, Second, increasing the cybersecurity environment, and Third, digitizing business processes for various departments. In focusing on these three key areas, for the remainder of 2023 and the start of 2024, emphasis will be on:
- Improving disaster Recovery and business continuity for a quick continuation of business operations in the event of a disaster.
- Introducing additional security features to the organization to increase and strengthen the cybersecurity environment. This includes introducing a cybersecurity awareness program for the organization. And
- Continued digitization of business processes throughout the organization to improve the efficiency of service delivery for both internal and external stakeholders.
Improving the efficiency of service delivery for internal and external stakeholders is a priority for Government this Parliamentary year. In addition to improving service, the following policy initiatives should also go a long way towards eliminating the plaguing issue of different departments within Government operating as organizational silos and the people being pushed from pillar to post.
The phased launch of online services for Business Licenses marks a significant step forward in streamlining the process and improving efficiency. Through careful restructuring of work processes, Government aims to achieve higher levels of productivity and effectiveness, and faster processing times for business owners. Ultimately improving the level of service.
Government will be implementing Change Management as a catalyst to improve service standards. Several key support divisions will be undergoing processes of change management within the coming months. The purpose of these initiatives will be to focus on capacity building & training, establishing standards, policy evaluation and implementation, improved shared services (internal and external clientele), asset management, digitalized work-processes, and the implementation of sound procurement & HR practices. The ultimate objective of this trajectory and part of the wider institutional reform initiatives, is to ensure a collaborative, compassionate, service-minded, transparent, effective and cost- efficient operation.
With the Digital Government Transformation Project, Government envisages a digitally enabled public sector that provides resilient, secure, and high-quality services that are easily accessible by all citizens and businesses in SXM. Government’s strategy guiding this process is founded on six core principles.
- User-Centric Design & Delivery of Public Services:
- Digital by default, yet inclusive and accessible:
- Single data requests:
- Trustworthy and secure:
- Open and transparent:
- Interoperability by default:
In applying these principles, the government proposes an ambitious plan of activities for the next seven years, built around four strategic objectives. These objectives are:
- Building a technologically empowered public sector
- Improving the quality, efficiency, security, and accessibility of public services
- Developing a modern legal and institutional framework, and
- Ensuring that the public can access and use the new possibilities.
In addition to this Government will be digitizing key historical government archived records to create a virtual archive, which will be accessible to the public. This Digital Government Transformation Project is funded by the Trust Fund. Another project funded by the Trust Fund is The Housing Project
Sint Maarten has long faced a crisis in affordable housing, a situation that was significantly intensified by the widespread destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. To combat these difficulties, the Trust Fund Steering Committee has designated a budget of 20 million USD for a comprehensive Housing Project.
The scope of this project includes the following objectives:
- Enhance the capability of the Sint Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) to construct and administer affordable housing for lower-income groups in a financially sustainable manner.
- Boost the proficiency in implementing a national housing policy, strategic planning, and programs for social, affordable, and market-rate housing.
- Build new mixed housing units (social & workforce) for rental by lower- income households and the workforce target group, under the management of the SMHDF.
The operational relationship between Government and the SMHDF is dictated by a Performance Agreement signed in June 1997. Both Government and the SMHDF recognize the current Performance Agreement is outdated and requires a comprehensive review.
The revision of the Performance Agreement is anticipated to occur during the project’s preparation phase and finalized by December 2023.
Government is also aiming at carrying out, the following social programs.
Government is committed to strengthening and expanding the safety nets available for the vulnerable population. This is done through the execution of various programs, a few of which are:
the Social Registry,
the home repair program,
women empowerment, and
an Alzheimer’s conference.
Government is focused on collecting data and spreading awareness of specific social ailments that affect the population as a whole, with a keen focus on the most vulnerable.
The intention of the social registry is to map the most vulnerable households within the community, proactively provide assessments and assistance with existing social programs and services in order to improve the delivery and quality of services. This system will ensure that those who need assistance will receive such assistance in an effective and efficient manner. This system will complement the existing digital systems and will synchronize information sharing between the different departments in public health, social development and labor. As a result, the data received through this system helps shape future policies and legislation, plan for new projects and programs and plays a vital role in disaster risk preparedness or response. The expectation is to roll out the pilot this month.
In addition Government plans the following Social Reforms:
- financial aid reform,
- the establishment of an unemployment fund replacing the Cessentia, and
- creating better purchasing power for the elderly and minimum wage earners via indexation.
The Home Repair program, which is a continuation of the Department of Community Development, Family & Humanitarian Affairs 2017 recovery program, targets the most vulnerable groups (elderly, single parents, unemployed) in our community, who do not have the means to repair their homes. After completing the home repair project in 2022, it was revealed that there was still a group of clients whose homes had not been fixed due to their financial and social circumstances. The homes of these clients are severely damaged, and there are currently no other home repair projects to which these clients can be referred. Hence, Government has finalized the approval of the implementation of a second phase of the project.
In response to global issues such as domestic violence and violence against women and children, Government executed empowerment programs that focus on women. Government in collaboration with The Listening Companion, facilitated a community-based support group for single parents to improve their parenting and life skills. This will be achieved through empowerment, inspiration, and interactive life coaching, as well as through encouraging the expansion of their village and network of relationships, and the maintenance of responsible parenting practices.
On the topic of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, Government is supporting the activity of local and international organizations to better educate, professional and informal caretakers on how to better deal with these diseases. A conference on this topic will take place this month.
A new list of maximum prices for the Basket of Goods has been released in the third quarter of 2023. Enforcement of this list is supported by an online platform in which the community can report any violation. Thus far while both verbal and documented warnings have been issued, fines have not been imposed yet as Government is allowing businesses to adjust to the new system. However, active enforcement along with fines will commence later in 2023 as sufficient time has elapsed for these businesses to comply.
Although this measure may not completely eliminate the high cost of living, it will improve the purchasing power of the people.
Which brings me to Labor
Government is tackling labor issues through the implementation of policy as outlined in the Country packages.
E1- labor market policy,
E3- Illegal employment of foreign workers, and
E4 – Social Security
From the research conducted on labor market policy and social security, several recommendations have been highlighted that Government aims to carry out. Some of these are:
modernizing the current employment permit system,
further amendments to curb the abuse of short term contracts and strengthen job security, regulating temporary employment agencies,
and further increases to the pensionable age.
An inter-ministerial pilot project is currently being carried out which allows for the regulation of illegal foreign employment. This project will end in the fourth quarter of 2023 after which an evaluation of the project will take place.
In addition, Government has developed an online job portal. The job portal will serve as the primary tool for the National Employment Service Center and will aid significantly in boosting the job matching process between employers and suitable job seekers.
While the impact of Covid has significantly decreased, Government still provided vaccines on request for those persons who would require such.
Presently, the focus is placed on
1. better understanding the impact of non-communicable diseases NCD’s,
2. mental health, and
3. healthy lifestyle choices.
Government is presently carrying out the PAHO/WHO non-communicable diseases STEPS Survey.
The information gathered via this survey will help prioritize and develop relevant prevention programs such as:
- health promotion campaigns;
- population screening programs;
- guidelines for early detection and management of diseases at the primary care level, including lifestyle counselling; and
- guidelines for the management and follow-up of people with NCD’s by specialized healthcare services.
Government has continued to make it a priority for appropriate steps to be taken to execute the necessary improvements needed to support the mental health sector in Sint Maarten. These steps include but are not limited to
- the development and improvement of legislation, policy, protocols, and ways of financing the various care products regarding mental health,
- the development of quality standards for mental health, conducting of various types of analyses and assessments related to mental health, the development of an updated National Mental Health plan, and
- the development and implementation of a mental health project via the National Recovery Program Bureau.
Government is aiming to execute a healthy breakfast program which will impact healthy lifestyle choices for youth, to be further carried out within their adult lives.
Healthy lifestyle choices of the general public will be an important aspect of the success of the General Health Care Insurance. Government aims to have this legislation passed before Jan 1 2024.
On the topic of youth
For the remaining months of 2023, Government will focus on finalizing and implementing:
- The National Positive Parenting Support Program, which serves as a tool for enhanced child protection,
- The Violence Prevention Program,
- The promotion of Meaningful Youth Participation among the youth population, and
- The development of a training plan for government workers and NGO’s on the topic of integrating meaningful youth participation.
Following the completion and posting of the sport facilities policy in 2021, it has provided guidance for planned repairs being executed by the NRPB at the school gyms and sport facilities as well as the planned upgrades of the field and the track at Raoul Illidge Sports Complex through Capital Investments.
Government continues to support the sport organizations through the development of child safeguarding guidelines. During the 4 th quarter of 2023 child safeguarding trainings will be conducted in collaboration with Government and UNICEF with the coaches.
In collaboration with NGO’s and the private sector, Government is striving to establish and promote Philipsburg as a Cultural Capital. This endeavor will be in close connection with organizing the creative industries as a viable alternative to the tourism industry. Intertwined with this undertaking is the aspiration to participate in the upcoming CARIFESTA and bring CARIFESTA to Sint Maarten before 2030.
The repair work in schools, for both students and staff has been ongoing, albeit at a gradual pace. Out of a total of 19 schools that required repairs, 6 of the most severely damaged ones have been successfully fixed. The remaining 13 schools are currently undergoing repairs and improvements.
Additionally, the government has planned the construction of 2 new education facilities and these facilities are being designed with an inclusive education approach in mind. The focus is on retrofitting the new buildings to cater to the needs of even the most vulnerable students with diverse requirements.
Government aims to establish a new learning institute that will serve to provide courses and training to its Law Enforcement professionals through established and recognized curricula. Continuous learning and lifelong learning which will help foster a culture of perpetual professional growth and development will be the pillars that the Law Enforcement Institute of Sint Maarten will rest upon.
In 2023 the Professional Development Program for Teaching Professionals continued. The program assists school boards in providing opportunities for schoolteachers with dispensation, to qualify as a teacher on Sint Maarten within 2 years. To improve the careers of teaching professionals further, Government will continue with reviewing the Education Functions and the compensation in 2024.
The development of the fleet tracking system for student transportation and the implementation of Policy Change for a more Efficient, Effective School Bussing Service leads to the implementation of the digital system and the introduction of new bussing agreements in the final quarters of 2023.
A few of the policy and research topics Government continues the development of are:
- the Policy and Roadmap for Reformed Secondary Education,
- the Special Needs Education Policy and Roadmap for Implementation,
- Introduction of assessments of the Primary and Secondary Education Cycle, as well as A framework for the Accreditation of Higher Education Programs & Institutions.
As Government continues its efforts to promote care and well-being in elementary and secondary schools, in order to identify distress among students, a digital screening tool was developed and is currently undergoing a pilot phase in four schools.
Promoting care and well-being as it relates to safety and security is high on Government’s list of priorities.
Safety and security or the lack thereof has a negative effect, actually a double whammy effect on our people. The lack of safety and security has a negative effect first on the well-being of our people and secondly on our tourism product which in turn negatively effects our economy which again negatively effects the well-being of the people. With this in mind the persistent capacity issues at our prison are a top priority for Government. As a result Government has been working on a new facility.
The Project consists of two phases with phase 1 having officially started with the signing of the Host Country Agreement at the beginning of the second quarter of 2023. The first phase of the project will cover a timespan of approximately 20 months. The United Nations Office for Project Services has been tasked to carry out the activities to meet the goals and objectives of the new prison project.
Government is in the process of finalizing a policy and strategic action plan for the Violence Prevention Program, which will cover schools, Day Care Centers, and afterschool Programs. Additionally, a Communication Strategy is being developed for the program. This program aims to ensure the safety and well- being of children and youth in various educational settings.
With the gaming and gambling reform Government aims to establish an independent gaming authority. The goal is
- to achieve compliance with CFATF and FATF recommendations,
- safeguard the industry’s integrity, reduce criminality in the industry and
- promote responsible gaming whilst increasing the sector’s contributions to the national treasury via fees for online gaming.
This in addition to the funds that will also contribute to the national treasury as a result of the legislation introducing fees for lottery booths that will soon go into effect.
And finally, worthy of note are three topics that have been plaguing Government and the people for some time now that Government is respectively, working towards and working towards finalizing.
In the pursuit of enhancing the road infrastructure, Government is dedicated to realizing a road network that not only attains high standards of quality but also effectively accommodates the necessary volume of motor vehicles on the island.
This will be done via the resurfacing of key main roads and the transformation of numerous dirt roads into durable concrete surfaces. This will be made feasible through a dedicated Capital Expenditure budget.
Government is working on establishing a dedicated road fund as prescribed in the motor vehicle tax ordinance, that should have significant positive impact for Sint Maarten’s infrastructure. Key general benefits of implementing this road fund and how it can particularly aid Sint Maarten’s infrastructure funding challenges are:
Focused Investment and sustainability: A road fund ensures that a portion of resources is consistently allocated solely for road infrastructure projects. This prevents the diversion of funds to other sectors and ensures a steady stream of financial support for development and improvement.
Improved Maintenance and Safety: One of the critical aspects of road network sustainability is regular maintenance. With a dedicated fund, resources can be specifically used for upkeep and repair, preventing the deterioration of roads and reducing the need for more costly repairs down the line.
The expansion of roads, the development of alternative routes, and the possibility of the development of public transportation systems. A major challenge that St. Maarten currently faces is the heavy traffic congestion due to the insufficient road infrastructure. Adequate funding from a road fund could alleviate this congestion.
Government has embarked on the strengthening of corporate governance of the public entities, via but not limited to:
- Amending the structure of the National Ordinance Corporate Governance and the Corporate Governance Code,
- Establishing a Corporate Governance Improvement Plan
- Transforming the Corporate Governance Council into a Corporate Governance Authority, by expanding their role and responsibility and
- Investing in training young professionals to become effective Supervisory Board members.
The Airport, which is the focus of the Corporate Governance Improvement Plan is currently in the process of reviewing and gradually implementing the recommended changes. The project is expected to be completed by mid 2024.
Government expects to conclude the ongoing work to complete the legislation regulating the legal position of the personnel in the justice chain within short. A budget amendment to that effect will be presented to Parliament for approval. Once this process is finalized the commencement of the issuing of the national decrees can take place.
Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,
Our Economy is recovering well and we are seeing a positive impact on the revenue of the country with pre-hurricane Irma output now finally expected to be achieved in 2024, leading to an increase in income for the Country for the coming years with the CFT expecting to see surpluses starting from 2024. This, for a great part due to Government’s commitment to sound financial management, to the measures as outlined in the Country packages and the financial injection through liquidity loans and the trust fund. But also due to a stable and consistent Government for soon to be a complete governing term,due in part to the commitment of Government but also the commitment and support of this esteemed body.
But we are not there yet, although the outlook is positive this has not yet trickled down to the average Joe and Jane on the street, so much remains to be done. It will take the continued effort of Government, Parliament the private sector and the IGO’s, NGO’s, service clubs and all the people of Sint Maarten, the entire village, to achieve, maintain and sustain a brighter tomorrow for us all, all and for generations to come.
Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,
In this new parliamentary year, Government will once again 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 fruitful, efficient and effective dialogue as well as your committed participation, this with the aim of garnering your support to serve the public interest on behalf of the people of Sint Maarten.
Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,
I wish you much success this new Parliamentary year 2023-2024 and I sincerely pray for your wisdom and discernment.
Thank you, God bless you and yours and God bless our great village Sint Maarten.