Governor Holiday opens 10th Parliamentary Year
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Governor Holiday opens 10th Parliamentary Year

His Excellency Governor Eugene Holiday His Excellency Governor Eugene Holiday

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – On Tuesday, September 10, 2019, marked the opening of the parliamentary year 2019-2020 by His Excellency the Governor of Sint Maarten Eugene Holiday in the House of Parliament on Tuesday morning.

His Excellency’s address to the House of Parliament can be found below:

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Today September 10, 2019, we are gathered in this chamber for the opening of Sint Maarten’s tenth parliamentary year 2019-2020. To mark the opening of our tenth parliamentary year I have the privilege of addressing you as prescribed by our Constitution. Today I do so amid trying and challenging times.

As we gather here today, we think of the victims and devastation caused by hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean, the United States and Canada. And more particular we think of The Bahamas where hurricane Dorian took the lives of at least 50 persons and left a trail of destruction with many persons still missing. Our prayers, thoughts and sympathy are with the families of the victims and with all those whose livelihoods are at risk. We are deeply saddened and stand in solidarity with the government and people of the Bahamas. We wish our Bahamian brothers and sisters strength and offer our support as they work to recover in this difficult time.

The utter destruction and human suffering caused by Dorian reminds us how vulnerable we are. We are, as a result, strengthened in our commitment to build resilience in the face of the increasing intensity and frequency of natural disasters as a result of climate change. And we are once again reminded that close regional and international collaboration is required to secure and protect our people and our way of life.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

As we embark on this tenth parliamentary year amid a cloud of political uncertainty, we – all of us – ought to ask ourselves one basic question: What can we do to secure a safe and prosperous future for our children and our grandchildren?

Let us, based on that question, use this moment to standstill and reflect on where we are and on the direction of our country.

And as you do so as parliamentarians and ministers, you ought to remind yourselves that people across our country look to you to work together to prioritize the policies that matter most to them. Matters that will improve their wellbeing and secure the wellbeing of their children and their children’s children. They look to you to support and take legislative decisions to strengthen our economy, to secure the functioning of our financial system, to improve the resilience of our infrastructure and to protect our environment. They look to you to focus on employment, housing, education, health, and security policies.

Addressing these issues in a serious and sustainable way is particularly

  • pressing given our vulnerability for the effects of climate change as experienced with the impact of hurricane Irma and as we can see in the Bahamas;
  • pressing, taking into account the risks associated with the slowing global economy amid escalating trade disputes; and
  • pressing, in the face of the threat to our financial system by criminals engaged in money laundering and terrorist financing.

It is against this backdrop imperative that parliament and government rise above the narrow confines of individual interests and domestic politics, to the higher and broader concerns of our society within this globalized world.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

The impact of Irma on our economy and on our people has and will continue to dominate government’s policy agenda. We are reminded every day of the immense strength and resilience of our people, amid the setbacks caused by the economic, financial, social, physical and emotional impact of hurricane Irma in 2017. During 2017-18, the economy contracted by a cumulative 12% and in 2018 unemployment increased to 9.9%. In 2018 government revenues declined due to the economic contraction, resulting in a budget deficit of NAf.105 million. For 2019 the deficit is budgeted to amount to NAf.71 million.

Strengthening our economic and financial resilience against external shocks has been and must therefore continue to be a key priority of government. Looking ahead, the outlook for 2019-2020 shows a gradual rebound in economic activity. The rebound is supported by the reconstruction activities of homes and businesses as well as by the coming online of hotel rooms to accommodate the increase in tourist demand.

Looking ahead our focus must be on growing the economy to above pre-Irma levels. Realizing that objective, calls for selfless rather than selfish actions and for cohesive rather than fractured responses. It calls for us to move with a sense of urgency and a sense of common purpose, grounded on a cohesive reconstruction, recovery and resilience agenda. One that includes:

  1. The rehabilitation of the airport terminal;
  2. The facilitation of the construction, renovation and upgrade of hotels;
  3. The stimulation of Small Business Recovery and development;
  4. The rehabilitation of education facilities;
  5. The repair of homes and strengthening of our social systems;
  6. The care for the environment;
  7. The tackling of the effects of climate change;
  8. The implementation of sustainable waste management;
  9. The strengthening of our disaster preparedness and management; and
  10. The strengthening of our public finances and financial management

To achieve these objectives, demands that we find the resolve to ask more of our selves than we demand of others, demands that we need not break others down to build ourselves up and demands that we realize that there is strength in internal and external partnerships rather than in partisanship.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

During the past year government has, in its efforts to strengthen our disaster preparedness and management capabilities, invested in building capacity through the upgrading of equipment, training and greater involvement of communities. Government has also, where necessary, sought to intensify collaboration with our neighbors on the northern side of the island as well as with regional and international partners. Important steps in this regard include:

  1. The joining of the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF) in September of 2018, to secure short-term liquidity if Sint Maarten is hit by a hurricane or other natural disaster; and
  2. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) on behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands ensuring cooperation on disaster risk management if assistance is required for the coordination of emergency response and relief efforts. The government is as a result pursuing becoming an associate member of CDEMA and will be hosting its conference at the end of this year.

To achieve its objectives government has and deems it important to continue to work closely with the Netherlands and the World Bank administered Trust Fund. Government has also and considers it imperative that we continue to build partnerships within the region. Government therefore looks forward to the CARICOM heads of governments meeting at the beginning of 2020, regarding the participation of Sint Maarten as an associate member of the CARICOM.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

An important precondition for the development and implementation of our required reconstruction, recovery and resilience agenda is a strong organization. Government has therefore executed its plans to the establish the National Recovery Program Bureau earlier this year. The program bureau is charged with preparing, coordinating, implementing and evaluating projects financed through the Trust Fund for the recovery and reconstruction process. The program bureau is financed through the Trust Fund and assists the ministries with the requirements of Trust Funds projects, including project management, financial management, procurement, as well as social and environmental safeguards. During the coming parliamentary year government expects the National Recovery Program Bureau to roll out an increased number of projects funded by the World Bank.

Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Besides strengthening its organization government has prioritized education as a corner stone for the sustainability of the recovery process. Government has therefore developed an Education Master Plan. The Education Master Plan is an inventory of all school buildings, sport facilities and cultural facilities such as the Library, the Museum and the SIMARC. The facilities of these services were all damaged, some even destroyed by hurricane Irma. Government has secured an amount of USD.35 million in the trust fund towards the Education Master Plan.

Government has also established a collaboration with its Kingdom partners in the area of education, culture, youth and sports. Noteworthy in this respect is the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding the protection of Children’s Rights signed in 2018. As part of the implementation of the multi-annual year plan and work plan of the Memorandum of Understanding MoU, government recently hosted the 4th Kingdom Taskforce Conference 2019 “Ready. Set. Protect”. In doing so government will continue to develop policies to combat abuse against children.

In addition to our children, government remains committed to protect the most vulnerable among us such as the sick, the elderly, and the unemployed. Important in this regard is the emergency income support and training project funded via the Trust Fund. The project includes training and certification programs in construction and hospitality for unemployed persons; That in cooperation with the National Institute for Professional Advancement and the University of St. Martin.

The availability of adequate, social and affordable housing has worsened as a result of the passing of hurricane Irma in 2017. Many families were left homeless. The housing waiting list at the Sint Maarten Housing and Development Foundation (SMHDF) has almost tripled post-Irma, up from some 1500 persons pre-Irma. It has as a result been concluded that the current agreement of tasks and responsibilities between government and SMHDF will be restructured. Government has established that diversification of the social housing program is needed and special housing for the elderly and physically challenged need to be included in the Housing Policy.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

The health of our population is linked to the care for our environment. With regards to the care for the environment, waste management is a significant challenge on our island. Government has, in its efforts to address the waste management challenges, been working closely with the World Bank and the Netherlands. The objective is to:

  • Improve the management of waste streams at the landfill; and
  • Introduce recycling, including the removal of metals and other recyclable material from the island.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Together with the care for our environment it is imperative that we implement measures to address and mitigate the effects of climate change on our island.

Government has taken critical steps in that regard, comprised of the reform of the legislative framework of VROMI through a new VROMI Ordinance. Under the new VROMI ordinance government has been working on updating and upgrading building code legislation and policies to mitigate the effects of recurring extraordinary hurricanes. To achieve this, government has already conducted an inventory and established stakeholders’ consultations.

Building codes however are not enough. They are to go hand in hand with an effective Spatial Development Strategy to increase resilience throughout our community. This in particular given the use of the Global Sustainable Development Goals to prepare the development planning legislation or the so-called zoning plan legislation. The Spatial Development Strategy provides the framework for the completion of 13 spatial development plans. Priority has been given to the draft plans for Middle Region and Dutch Quarter which are being finalized to be submitted to parliament for handling.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

To safeguard the stability necessary to support our reconstruction, recovery and resilience objectives it is essential to ensure the safety and security of our people. This is particularly important considering the increase in violent crime and the increasing threat of cross border crime. Notwithstanding the limited available financial resources government deems it imperative to continue to invest in the strengthening of its law enforcement. It has in that regard identified several priorities which include:

  • The upgrading of the facilities of the Police stations in Philipsburg, Simpson Bay and Cole bay;
  • The upgrading of the Immigration offices and systems;
  • Recruitment to reinforce the Coastguard; and
  • The renovation of the Point Blanche Prison facilities as well as the need for a new prison.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

As a small open tourism economy Sint Maarten is a member of the international community. It is therefore imperative for Sint Maarten to maintain good international relations and comply with its international obligations. The income we earn from tourism, the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the goods we use to build our homes come in large part from overseas paid for through the international banking and financial system. Our economy, our financial system is thus completely tied to the global economy. Anything that affects the integrity of the global economy, affects us. Based on the review of the Caribbean Financial Action Taskforce, Sint Maarten must implement a number of legislative changes urgently, to protect our local financial system from misuse by criminals and from forming a risk to the global financial system.

Government has therefore prioritized the introduction of legislation to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism based on international requirements as stipulated by the Financial Action Task Force. The adaption of these regulations in our laws is critical, to secure the participation of our economy in international trade and business, and thus to safeguard the viability of our local economy. That is to safeguard our jobs and livelihoods as well as those of our children and their children.

Government has as a result recently presented parliament with, an amendment of the Penal Code, an amendment of the Penal Procedure Code and an amendment of the Civil Code, for your urgent handling. This to ensure compliance with the Financial Action Task Force stipulations and avoid Sint Maarten being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force.

The question before this parliament is as such a simple one: Will you act before this tipping point become a breaking point for us and for the future of our children and grandchildren?

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Hurricane Irma has left government cash strapped with significant budget and liquidity deficits. As a result, government has limited financial internal means to execute its agenda towards meeting the challenges that our country is facing. That is limited outside of the USD.470 million available financing through the Trust Fund, USD.128 million of which has already been committed to specific projects.

To achieve its objectives government has therefore and deems it important to continue to work closely with the Netherlands and the World Bank administered Trust Fund.

Government has, taking the challenging conditions into account, prepared the draft 2020 budget for presentation to and handling by parliament.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

Two years after hurricane Irma, we have come a long way and it is evident that a lot remain to be done. We must as a people, government and parliament be focused and relentless in our pursuit to realize a cohesive reconstruction, recovery and resilience agenda. In this tenth parliamentary year we cannot afford not to get it right among ourselves, with the Netherlands and with our partners in the region. We must shoulder our responsibility and act with a sense of urgency and common purpose.

Madame Chairlady, Members of Parliament,

In this tenth parliamentary year, you are advised to reflect on the basic question: What can we do to secure a safe and prosperous future for our children and our grandchildren? And as you review and debate the business of our people - in these complex and challenging times - it is essential to note that the policy choices you make in this chamber will shape the lives and determine the opportunities of current and future generations of Sint Maarteners.

The people of Sint Maarten therefore depend and look to their parliamentarians and government to work together for them and to represent their interests.

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.

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