SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – Leader of the People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA) and first President of the Parliament of Sint Maarten at the birth of country status Gracita Arrindell, reflected on the past ten years and said in a statement on Monday that: “Ten years of constitutional reform arrived fast and furious. October 10, 2020.
“It’s been a tumultuous decade plagued by hurricanes, and a lack of political will power to acknowledge our mistakes and a commitment to do better. The end of a decade that culminated in a COVID- 19 pandemic that caught the world off –guard and brought Sint Maarten to its knees. No one expected this. It has become crystal clear we failed to learn from our mistakes while being an Island Territory under a former constitutional arrangement -the former Netherlands Antilles.
“We were granted a new constitutional status within the Kingdom of the Netherlands that would allow us more freedom by bringing the decision-making process taken closer to home and we squandered it. No need to fly to Willemstad by our then senators for meetings to ‘defend’ our island or bring back what we deserve from the Federal Governments coffers.
“During the last Federal elections held on January 27, 2006 the then Netherlands Antilles faced an estimated debit of over five Billion Antillean (Nafl 5 Billion) guilders. Sint Maarten debts were calculated as over five hundred million (Nafl. 500 million) including the debts at the time of government owned companies.
“We aspired to assume our own responsibilities and new tasks to execute policies, programs and projects that would enrich the quality of the lives of all our citizens. A new status that would enable the policy makers to look their constituents squarely in the eye and keep promises made of safer streets, affordable homes, less taxes, better jobs, modern education, strong economy, healthy environment.
“The new date (first January 2010, then later revised to October 2010) had many on Sint Maarten worried. Yet the willingness to put our shoulders under this new structure and create a better, stronger Sint Maarten prevailed. Our frontline public servants such as teachers and first responders, including police officers, firefighters, nurses went beyond their calls of duty in spite of the fact that for many it took a decade to have their new legal status finalized. After all, we are only sixteen square miles, easy to drive around or walk into the neighborhoods. Not too difficult to manage, right? Wrong.”
Arrindell states: “Instead of the above, after a shaky start on 10/10/10 we clearly lost our focus of working for ALL our people ALL the time instead of working part-time by most of our elected representatives over the past ten years. Not taking a leaf from the Antillean history pages especially in terms of creating a stable financial management for our governments had dire consequences. For example, the General Audit Chamber of the former Netherlands Antilles warned in its yearly reports of the unbalanced budgets, gross financial mismanagement and tardy submission of the financial reports and lack of approval by Parliament. Today our own General Audit Chamber sounds the same alarms as its predecessors.”
Gracita continues: “After ten years, we can state that the true ‘saviors’ of our young democracy are first and foremost the majority of people and businesses who suffered yet peacefully put up with lack of decisive and emphatic leadership while still giving consecutive governments a chance to govern. Secondly, after a decade our system of checks and balances put in place prior to 10/10/10 works to a great extent. The separation of powers between the legislative branch, (Parliament) and the executive branch (Council of Ministers) is a good example.
“The establishment of the high Councils of State: The Council of Advice, the General Audit Chamber, and Ombudsman office carried the day for our democracy. These women and men deserve much credit and respect for taking their responsibilities to the highest possible level. Their recommendations must not end up in the proverbial ‘backburner’ of Parliament. Rather the contents of these reports must be discussed, prioritized, approved and executed to the benefit of our constituents and businesses. The other institutions guarding as well as guiding this elaborate process of making this new status work include the Constitutional Court, Council for law enforcement, Electoral Council, Corporate Governance Council and other councils and chambers”.
Arrindell concludes: We cannot turn back the clock. After ten years we can safely conclude that the patience and good will of our citizens have run dry. Looking forward we must:
- substantially strengthen our economic and financial income base by working in close partnership with the private sector.
- lessen the tax burden by broadening its base and eliminate taxes that do not work. This is especially important for our elderly population.
- drastically improve education in all aspects
- deep- clean all our neighborhoods
- deliver affordable homes for our people we have been promising for so long
- have a diplomatic strategy to positively engage with our partners in the Dutch Kingdom.
- last but certainly not least, appoint a COVID -19 ‘Tzar’ plus a team to present a coherent Covid prevention, containment, and eradication policy for the next short and midterm until it is safe to live normally again.
“The time is here and now for the elected officials to deliver on its promises and for the people to prosper,” Arrindell concluded.