SHTA’s Reflections on Recovery
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SHTA’s Reflections on Recovery

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - As we pensively anticipate the anniversary of Hurricane Irma, we reflect on how little meaningful progress has been made one year after the devastation.

Immediately after and several times following, The SHTA was asked by numerous official parties for its ideas and needs for “Building Back Better”.  

Legend:   ● good    ● slightly improved    ● neutral    ● slightly worsened    ● bad

Analyzing the current situation by means of a Score card, the Association’s top 10 priorities, the conclusion is that regardless of the advices on behalf of the private sector and wider public in general little has been accomplished. Moreover, no action has been taken to facilitate the recovery of the private sector, as has been done in other hurricane torn destinations, not even any consideration for missed tax filings due shortly after the storm when Government itself was largely shut down.

Priorities “Vision for Sint Maarten 2025”

1.    Provide Leadership – take the hard decisions, inform the people and stay the right course.  Allow private sector representatives and NGOs to assume leadership in the sectors where they have proven expertise, motivation and investments, whether economic, social or environmental.

The private sector has been used as a stakeholder check box—something that has to be done with little thought to the details of the discussion. 

While the community continues to wait, relief and decisions are slow in coming, lack of capacity is cited as a principal reason, while more than 40% of the public budget is spent on the civil service pay-roll.

2.     Implement Environmental Protection Laws and Enforcement--Protecting our most valuable economic asset is seen as extremely important including an urgent solution to the Dump and Waste Management.

Dump is still burning, no changes to how it is managed, no stoppage of accepting waste from other territories.  No discussion of passing stronger environmental protection laws.

Only private recycling initiatives.  Litter a constant plague in every neighborhood.  No tangible improvements to septic. The lagoon is still a mess and is full of debris.

3.     Institute Immediate Tax Relief and Fiscal Policy Reform – policy and productivity; help employers keep employees through the long dry summer ahead.  Allow the private sector input in the development of a new tax-system that will be fair, improve the business climate, productivity, wealth creation and support local employment.

Fiscal reform has only been given lip service to date.  The Inspectorate does not function, back – up with administrative entries to 1Q2016.  TOT continues with its destructive economic nature, all resulting in increasing deficits for the country and a poor investment climate.  Make recovery all the more difficult.

4.    Fix the Airport NOW as quickly as possible– everything about it.

 

Airport timeline escalated to November 2018 instead of 2019. Insurance partially settled as yet and lacking funding for rebuilding hurricane proof.   Structural plan of rebuilding not shared with public, strong potential for major damage to our core product.

5.    Create Hire / Fire Labor Legislation with portable benefits – creating flexibility will lead to upward mobility away from the minimum wage quagmire we are currently in.

No changes within labor law. No meaningful dialogue with the social partners has taken place. Undue stress and legal expenses are being incurred by both employees and employers as they try to safeguard their livelihoods.

6.     Demand Government Accountability – act as facilitator—not doer nor hinderer; Manage expenses and accurately report expenditure and income by producing actual annual accounts, in line with the comptabiliteits verordening; actively eliminate Corruption

 

No Financial Statements since 2012. Annual reports of the Audit Chamber are ignored. Incomplete Government administrative records.

Budgets late and not adhered to, with no basis in reality of actual accounts. 

Continuously disrupted Government IT systems, causing major accounting errors

Annual reports of “Raad van de Rechtshandhaving” (Judicial Enforcement Council) has been ignored in parliament.

7.     Provide a framework policy for facilitating Credit extension –implementation by the Central Bank, with Loan Guarantees where necessary for local Banks in order to generate private sector liquidity assistance. Do so in line with point 1.

 

Qredits has provided over 100 loans to SME’s. Many companies have already taken up high interest loans, either on island or abroad.

The discussions of implementing support for the private sector via loans or even grants is a day late and a dollar short as the saying goes.  This was requested and needed in October, many entities that still exist have already found funding sources, those that couldn’t most likely do not exist any longer.   Implementation now without due diligence will end up punishing those entrepreneurs who obtained financing earlier in order to stay afloat by subsidizing their competition.

8.    Halt NHI Implementation –reform our healthcare system – yes; create sustainability – yes; but do not force an antiquated idea without enough quality data into a downward spiraling economy.

NHI remains a constant threat to the economy and labor base.    While some points within the NHI legislation may be needed and justified, coupling it with the far-reaching expensive premise of the whole package means the Private Sector cannot support it.  The Actuarial report on financial soundness and proper statistical basis has not been provided by either government or SZV.  So no agreement to the conclusions contained therein can be made.

9.     Sustainable Destination Marketing in a Structured Legitimate Public Private Collaboration such as a Promotional Board—single purpose entity.

 

French – Dutch Side MOU signed.  Talks ongoing between government (Tourist Board) and stakeholders reinvigorated.  Seeking partnerships with our neighbors. 

Much still needs to be done, but the signs are more encouraging.

10. Improve Quality and Quantity of Law Enforcement

 

Ministry of Justice has recently added more funds to reinforce policing. The Judicial system is slow, crime is increasing, even small steps to improve prevention are not taken, like ensuring the street lights are all on and increasing controls.  Solving the situation with the prison is not in sight as yet.

The SHTA will not contend that no progress has been made, of course things could have been worse, and much effort has been spent. However, the situation on the ground could also be better. In many ways, Irma presented an opportunity for us to come together and assess what it is we want and really need as a community. 

How do we want to improve our lives.  Unfortunately, a real sense of community is still lacking. Political bickering and finger-pointing is still the order of the day. Private sector employers and self-employed—the main tax payers-- have been completely sidelined with no support. Democratic participation is at an all-time low.

There are no statistics available on anything, not from STAT or TEATT but not from the Central Bank either. In addition, STAT has announced not to publish inflation data over the upcoming year.

What was produced is the NRRP. Here we need to be honest and say that it does not pass muster. As a document being termed a roadmap does not include anything that comes close to being termed a “plan” and has no prioritization.  It’s seems like more of a Governmental wish list with no basis in reality. It is unfortunate that now, a full year past that fateful day when it all blew to bits, this is going to be our point of departure.

By all means let’s reflect on where we are and the many things that have been achieved. Let’s give credit where credit is due, but let’s also be honest about what still needs to get done in order to really improve our present situation.

SHTA’s Vision for Sint Maarten 2025 and its 10 key priorities listed above were presented on its Annual General Meeting on May 28th to its members, strategic partners, NGO’s as well as representatives of Sint Maarten and Dutch government. The full vision text is to be found at www.SHTA.com/vision, as well as a summarizing movie. 

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