SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – His Excellency Governor Eugene Holiday on Tuesday delivered the following speech at the launching and opening of the Windward Islands Bank (WIB) self-service branch.
The speech is as follows:
Ladies and Gentlemen Good evening,
And in particular good evening to the Management, Board of Supervisory Directors and to all who make up the Windward Islands Bank and the MCB family.
I am pleased to be present and to speak in my home district to mark the official opening of this Bush road self-service Branch of the Windward Islands Bank.
About five and a half years ago, I spoke at another Windward Islands Bank function when the Bank’s expanded and upgraded main office was officially opened to further improve service levels to the Bank’s customers. Since then, a lot has happened. Hurricane Irma has devastated our socio-economic infrastructure, resulting in an expected economic contraction of 8.5% in 2018 following an estimated decline of 4.5% in 2017. Meanwhile unemployment has increased to 9.2% in 2018.
There is, as a result, an urgent need to invest in the rebuilding of our national infrastructure and economy. The significance of this event is therefore more than the official opening of a new bank branch in the Bush road district, it clearly demonstrates Windward islands Bank continuing confidence in our economy as well as its vital role in advancing Sint Maarten’s digital infrastructure for socio economic growth.
As I saw this building transform into a Windward Islands Bank branch, it caused me to reflect on the evolution of life and business in the Bush road community.
Having grown up on Bush road I remember when it was truly a Bush road of mainly bush, with only a few homes and families. Hard working families, who invested their hard-earned money to create opportunities for the development of their families, their properties and their community. Hard-working families, who did self-service banking at home, yesself-service banking, by holding their money in their shoes, under their mattresses or in their safe.
The natural, social and economic landscape of Bush road – like that of the rest of Sint Maarten – have changed dramatically since then. While at the foot of the Bush road we still have the Prince Bernhard bridge, at the head of the Bush road the T-Crossing has transformed into a roundabout. At the heart of Bush road, the former ESSO gas stationof my grandfather L.B. Scott, now houses a SOL gas Station. At the location of the former Caribe Lumberof Mr. Charlie Vlaun, we now have Cost u Less. The island’s premier supermarket Food Centerhas evolved into the CarreFour supermarket. And today, we are on the property where the well-known Bush road resident Ms. B.lived, opening a new WIB digital self-service Branch, promoting cash-less transactions. These developments are reflective of the fact that as a boy I shopped on Bush road for my parents at several of the former businesses using cash, and today I shop at the current businesses using plastic. And unlike my parents my GEBE and TELEM bills are paid online.
These developments teach us that our economy has evolved. They teach us that we face new realities. The realities of the digital age where technology play a central role in our daily lives. Our 21stcentury digital reality, has changed the way we interact and behave and, with that, our expectations. It is a reality where everyone and everything is connected online. A reality where people prefer to do everything online, everythingfrom online shopping to online dating.
To leverage the vast economic opportunities of the online digital world it is imperative for us as a country to invest in the upgrading and expansion of our national digital infrastructure. This is particularly important for our tourism-based economy, where we must meet travelers’ expectations, anytime, anywhere, and in real time, to remain competitive.
But it is equally critical to the functioningof other areas in our society, areas such as, healthcare, education, and government services were the impact of digitalization is increasing rapidly. Safe and reliable access to digital services and the speed of transmission of data and information over the internet are key to our highly interconnected world. The sustainable recovery and growth of our tourism economy and thus our livelihood depends on it.
To achieve this, we will need concerted public-private partnerships to organize and fund the required investments in fiberoptic-based networks and related enabling infrastructure to boost connectivity across our island and with the rest of the world.Partnerships where our banking sector has a pivotal role as a user and financier of the digital infrastructure.
While the internet has or is becoming the essential infrastructure of the 21st century, the banking system has long been one of the most vital sectors for the effective and efficient functioning of our economy.Its importance as the “lifeblood” of economic activity is undisputable. Our banks, through their lending and payment services, have always played a critical role in the socio-economic development of Sint Maarten.
Established in 1960 as the first commercial bank on Sint Maarten to meet the banking needs of our community, Windward Island Bank has a long history and partnership with the people, the businesses and government of Sint Maarten. And today’s launching of this digital self-service bank branch is a significant and welcome step in that partnership.
Significant because it furthers the advancement of Sint Maarten’s national digital infrastructure. An advancement that has the potential to help unlock the educational, health care and socio-economic growth opportunities of the digital era. Growth opportunities, which I am sure that the past residents of Bush road would have embraced.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, it is against the backdrop of the significance of this event that I commend the Management, Board of Supervisory Directors and all who make up the Windward Islands Bank and MCB family for your continued efforts towards delivering modern convenient banking services and facilities to the people of Sint Maarten.
Congratulations with the opening of this branch.
Thank you, God Bless You
And may God Bless Sint Maarten and protect its coast.