SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - My fellow Sint Maarteners, My tenure as Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (MECYS) in the Interim Romeo-Marlin Cabinet has come to an end. When I transitioned into the role as Minister on January 15th of this year, I was overwhelmed with a sense optimism and gratitude for being given the opportunity to serve my Country.
In this short time, during which we have been through a parliamentary election and the formation of a new government while still very much in the midst of our Recovery process, I recognize that there have been continued challenging moments and unforeseen complications that influenced emotions, our sense of well-being and progress of our recovery.
As I close off this interim term, I reflect on the progress and accomplishments made since January. The assignment for the Interim Cabinet had a strong sense of focus on the recovery progress post Irma, the establishment of budget 2018 and the continuity of ongoing governmental affairs. In preparing this message I returned to my very first press briefing speech given during my first week in office.
In that message I emphasized my prioritization and focus on the psycho-social wellbeing of our students, teachers and MECYS staff; safety and preparedness of all MECYS institutions to ensure that our children and youth can learn and develop in an environment that is conducive to their overall development; reconstruction and possible re-zoning of certain critical facilities; capacity building; policy and legislation.
To that end the Ministry’s accomplishments as a team have been remarkable and individual staff members of the staff bureau, departments and divisions have made significant contributions towards the MECYS agenda of recovery and strategic change in the short period of time. I am content with what we together accomplished as a team; none of which would have been possible without the support of my capable Ministry.
With the hard work of my team, I take pride that our Ministry has been able to:
- Advance significantly with the Higher Education Ordinance, the establishment of a Law Faculty on the island and complete the Study Financing Ordinance.
- Host the first ever Creative Industries Interactive Exchange Forum and present the 2018 Culture Prize through which has served as the catalyst for dialogue on the establishment of an Artists Guild as well as an investigation into the economic opportunities the creative industries may bring to the island;
- Train staff members of the ministry, teachers and key MECYS stakeholders through trainings and workshops on disaster management and phyco-social wellbeing;
- Highlight the importance of sports and focus on the critical repairs needed of our sports facilities through the #SportsMatter initiative;
- Advance on critical repairs to schools and surrounding perimeters, repairs to several community basketball courts and sports facilities;
- Significantly advance with a number of conclusions, agreements and an enhanced relationship between the Government and the St. Maarten School Bus Owners Association;
- Successfully complete the school year, with study financing and an examination season where initial results indicated that student’s learnings, especially in our exam classes, were not significantly impacted by the Hurricane;
- Establish a number of key committees including the Steering Committee to evaluate and discuss Career Development in the Teaching Profession, Monument Council and UNESCO National Commission;
- Contract a consultant and establish a project organization to assist in the repositioning of Public Education as we work towards schools of excellence;
- Secure our place as an important Ministry to discuss and develop new building criteria to build our schools back better.
Our recently established National Recovery and Resilience Program highlights and confirms that the MECYS sectors has been significantly impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria with estimated damages of more than 60 million dollars and 1,7 million dollars respectively.
Personally, I wished to have advanced much further with the repairs to our schools, sport facilities and cultural heritage and organizations, but as I have been informed that the insurance claim may be settled soon and the interests of Build Back Better repairs have been recognized in the first tranche emergencies and short term needs via the Trust fund, I am hopeful that Quarter 3 and 4 will see intensified reconstruction of our precious MECYS infrastructure.
Knowing that the MECYS agenda continues to be challenging, I sincerely hope to see an accelerated recovery and continued improvements for resilient and 21st learning environments, a cultural and sport infrastructure with programs that fosters and propels talent and a Philipsburg “knowledge and cultural city” that boosts our identity and social-economic strength.
I sincerely thank each and every one of the staff members of my Ministry for their dedication to this Ministry, their professionalism and hard work for the community of St. Maarten. I would especially like to thank Mrs. Shermina Powell-Richardson, my acting Secretary General, who has been steadfast, calm and consistent, as well as Suzan Aafjes and Oralie Boirard for their significant contributions to the recovery process.
With the transition into my new role as Minister Plenipotentiary as of Monday, June 25th I ask for the staff’s continued enthusiasm as they welcome new MECYS Minister Wycliff Smith and his Cabinet. I personally believe that this Ministry and the people of this Ministry, including the teaching staff and sport instructors are one of the greatest assets of the Government of Sint Maarten and I hope to be able to continue to support and collaborate with MECYS where ever I can in my new upcoming position.
I thank Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin and my fellow Council of Ministers for the opportunity to work with such a vibrant and enthused set of individuals. Each of us fought passionately for our Ministries. With limited funds, an at times uncertain trajectory and an overwhelming amount of work to be done, conversations at times were tense but I truly believe that each Minister’s only motive was to see the people of St. Maarten successfully through the recovery phase. I am proud to have been a part of this team.
To the media, I enjoyed building what I hope was a strong relationship and active partnership between the Ministry and yourselves. As I stated back in January, “Your responsibility within our society is an important one as fair and balanced reporting is in my opinion, the corner-stone of your profession.” I believe in the principles of an open government and radical transparency to regain trust amongst our people, our constituents.
To the people of St. Maarten, I am very humbled at the responsibility that was entrusted in me. I worked hard, I gave it my all and I look forward to my continued service to Sint Maarten as your representative in the Hague.
I wish to end with the quote “Good byes are never easy and this good bye is hard for me. Then again some can say ‘How lucky I am to have something that makes saying Goodbye so hard’” (Winnie the Pooh).
God bless Sint Maarten always.