WEDNESDAY, 12 SEPTEMBER 2012
~ At start of new parliamentary year ~
PHILIPSBURG–The new parliamentary year was opened on Tuesday after Governor Eugene Holiday delivered his presentation of government’s plans and policies for 2012-2013. The outline highlighted a number of ongoing projects and new goals.
Included on government’s agenda are the completion of the new tax system and the launching of the tourism authority by 2013, establishment of the gaming control board, improving public health, preservation of culture and heritage, and fostering more involvement of residents in the building of their communities.
Speaking in the General Assembly Hall, Holiday said St. Maarten “has faced the challenges of a continued volatile global environment” in the past 23 months since attaining country status and that a global environment of weak growth, recurring high fuel cost and persistent financial fragility continued to put pressure on the overall financial and economic situation.
“It is under these unfavourable conditions that the government continues to take steps to consolidate the accomplishments of the 2010 constitutional reform and to build and shape our young country,” he said, adding that the current government had formulated its 2012-2014 Governing Programme, themed “Working for the People,” under these circumstances.
“A critical reality is the challenge of limited financial resources to fund the plans required to achieve the envisioned objectives – a reality as reflected in the corrective measures implemented to amend and balance the 2012 budget in July of this year,” the governor said.
These “realities” through government’s policy agenda have led to a shift in priorities in some instances, while government has given its support to ongoing initiatives in others, to avoid potential litigation and stagnation of other vital activities.
He said that notwithstanding the difficult external environment, the government was optimistic that the outlined path provided the basis for sustained and balanced national and socio-economic developments for the people.
Government will reach out to Parliament with legislative initiatives to execute its plans and realise objectives. ” … Government looks forward to your participation and your support in achieving the outlined vision for the coming period in the interest of the people of St. Maarten,” Holiday told Members of Parliament (MPs).
Following the governor’s speech, President of Parliament Rodolphe Samuel declared the legislative year open. The customary parade of uniformed groups was held after the close of the meeting with the governor, with Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, her cabinet and invited guests looking on from Cyrus Wathey Square.
Essential to government’s vision is “a cohesive national society” with culture as “a unifying factor.” Government will endeavour to promote knowledge and proper use of national symbols, to recognise and protect monuments, to build a national museum and national theatre for the performing arts, to establish archives of historical and cultural heritage, and to promote development and recognition of artists.
Government also will focus on further development of the Marine Park and designation of a terrestrial park with the formalisation of the imminent purchase of Emilio Wilson Estate. Non-governmental organisations will be charged with its management.
Government is digitalising the archives of its administration and of the Civil Registry. Further actions will be taken to set up a national archive and develop a policy on digitalising and archiving for other departments. “A digital archive also contributes to faster and more customer-friendly public services.”
The Comprehensive Integrity Policy will be delivered at the end of 2012, followed by the establishment of the Integrity Bureau as of January 1, 2013.
In the area of education, Government will take steps to improve the level of St. Maarten’s knowledge of English and Dutch, to promote a culture of continuous learning through support and development of higher learning institutions to meet the needs of the job market, to foster entrepreneurship programmes within secondary and tertiary schools, and to provide opportunities for educational achievement for students with special needs, as well as guidance and support for their families.
Government considers sports to be “a fundamental part of cultivating a healthy body, mind and spirit.” Strengthening and developing of sports will ensure all residents have the opportunity to develop a fundamental foundation. Sports competitions – locally, regionally and internationally – will be fostered to allow for athletes to reach their highest potential.
Health and Social Affairs
Government is engaged in health care policy reforms to promote and protect the health, safety and general wellbeing of all St. Maarteners. These reforms include preparations for the phased introduction of a new health insurance system.
The National Health Insurance legislation, based on the philosophy of equal access to essential health services, will be presented for decision-making in 2012.
Government is preparing a new law to secure quality care to strengthen controls on the quality, registration and training requirements of medical professionals.
To secure the sustainability of the health care system and services, government intends to execute projects in nutrition and physical education, and to organise “Get-checked” and health observance days.
Government will “continue to take steps” to ensure that St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) meets the needs of a growing and changing St. Maarten demography, and expands its services to accommodate more medical specialties and support services.
Government intends to further the development of medical tourism as it builds its oversight capacity by placing emphasis on an effective Inspectorate of Public Health.
Government will aim to make social services more accessible, transparent, fair and sustainable, targeting vulnerable groups and those living in or on the brink of poverty. A council for the elderly and a human rights platform are to be established.
Government will introduce “a revised Financial Aid Ordinance” and pension reform will be prepared. The first phase will provide for adjustments in the Old Age Pension legislation AOV to increase the pension age to 62 and adjust benefits to pensioners.
The foreign employment policy, the dismissal law, employment agencies and curbing the use of six-month contracts will be reviewed in the short term. A labour market information system to guide policy decisions and adjustments will be implemented.
With the existing financial constraints and land scarcity, government hopes to achieve its housing programme through public–private partnerships. Focus also will be on the continued connections of buildings to sewage plants. The St. Peters area will be connected by year’s end and a sewage plant will be built for Cole Bay, Cay Bay and Billy Folly.
The execution of the Comprehensive Road Network Plan will be used to eliminate key traffic bottlenecks. Government is busy finalising zoning plans. This project aims to have all zoning plans covered by laws in 2014.
Government will establish an Energy Policy that will include the use of alternative energy and the introduction of “a net metering policy.”
Government is also in the process of working out plans to build a waste-to-energy facility.
Government envisions the expansion of the Police Force to some 400 employees within the next few years, reorganising the Immigration Service by separating it from the police and taking steps to expand and improve detention facilities to meet the community’s and visitors’ demands for higher security and greater police visibility.
Government believes that residents ought to take responsibility for their neighbourhoods and through its neighbourhood development programme it will seek to strengthen community councils and assist them, with residents’ participation, to build vibrant districts.
The integrated neighbourhood development planning concept will aim to yield the provision of public services in different locations, operating as one department. Simpson Bay will be the pilot project for all other centres, including one in the new Government Building.
Government will promote Princess Juliana International Airport as a hub and will develop niche tourism markets such as convention tourism, sports tourism and offshore educational and medical services. A “Statistical Dashboard” and the Changing Lanes project will be implemented and the Gaming Control Board will be established.
A St. Maarten Aquaponic Farm will be established in 2013 to diversify economic activity.
Pursuing the building-up of the local branch of the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten, soliciting broad advice on the currency choice, and the establishment of a stock exchange to give an impulse to St. Maarten as a financial centre are also on government’s agenda.
To achieve a solid foreign strategy and service, an international relations commission will be instituted while government further strengthens its directorate of foreign relations.
“An important priority” of government is the stepping up of effective cooperation and partnering with the French side as underscored by ongoing joint passenger Immigration control at the airport and cross-border police cooperation.
Government attaches “great importance” to regional cooperation. It has taken up membership in at least one regional organisation and is considering others to help with institutional building, to facilitate transfer of knowledge and best practices and to serve domestic goals such as migration, social development, justice and diversification.
Government will dedicate more resources to further strengthening the coordination and management of ongoing and future European Union (EU) projects to benefit the community.
Government is working on “a phased overhaul” of the tax system and a multi-annual financing plan that are to result in a simpler and more balanced system, with a stronger emphasis on indirect taxation. The first phase, planned for 2013, aims at providing direct financial relief and more spending power to persons earning a maximum of NAf. 5,000 per month.
A dividend policy for government-owned companies is being prepared which will take the companies’ investment strategies and debt ratios into consideration.
Government is working on making improvements to the budget process and the financial management.