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St. Maarten prime minister: Expect changes in social services, taxes in 2013


PHILIPSBURG–Residents can “expect changes that will benefit the community at large, such as changes to the tax system, as well as pension, health and social reforms,” Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said in her New Year’s address released on Friday.

Government has implemented and will continue to implement “incremental measures” such as the increase in the pension allowance to NAf. 1,000 per month, the increase in pension age and changes to some tax and fee structures such as the vehicle road tax and immigration fees.

“None of these changes will come without due consideration and consultation, as people’s health and livelihoods are not to be taken lightly and changes must be for the betterment of the majority of people,” Wescot-Williams said.

The National Alliance (NA)/Democratic Party (DP)/Independent-3 government “will continue to place emphasis” on service and doing away with the image of a government and a public service that is insensitive and out of touch.

Government will continue to bring its services directly to the districts. “We will be expanding on the work which we have been doing through the broadening of our services to reach all citizens.”

The first service centre will open in Simpson Bay early in 2013, providing vital public services such as those of the Labour, Social, and Receiver’s Offices and the Civil Registry.

She said “a robust economy is a must” to generate employment and allow government to provide public services to the people, provide sustainable health and social systems and take measures to ensure that poverty is eliminated where such exists in the community.

“Government is enabled to do so through contributions by corporate and individual citizens in the form of taxes and fees for government services.”

Wescot-Williams said a constant challenge remained for a growing country with obligations: “the creation of income for government versus its obligations and citizens’ expectations.”

Government recognises that this pressure comes at a time when business is also challenged from different angles: a sluggish economy, fierce competition, cost of doing business, the Internet and several other factors that have impacted the “make-a-fast-dollar” mentality and economy of the past.

Government, the private sector and civil society have “demonstrated a keen understanding of these challenges and shown their willingness to work together to come up with the best alternatives for the challenges and choices we face” during the past months, she said.

This attitude, stated the Prime Minister, bodes well for the future and creates a solid basis for the dialogue, which will commence early in 2013 to chart a long-term vision for St. Maarten in the form of a National Development Plan.
This past year has been “a learning experience in so many ways” and 2013 will “put before us questions regarding sustainable development choices for our country going into the future.

“Our constitution is a good starting point for government and citizenry to act in tandem as our young country evolves, and we still have the opportunity to shape it into the St. Maarten we envisage for the future and for future generations.”
Government’s emphasis on community development and district empowerment is “already bearing fruit, as civil society is stepping up to the plate to do their part in promoting the community spirit in their respective districts.”

Wescot-Williams commended these initiatives and creativity by the community councils and other volunteer workers. Government is “resolute in its determination” to fill the void created by the cessation of the Antillean Co-Financing Organisation AMFO with the St. Maarten Development Fund.

Government has “invested a lot” in its public servants during the past year to foster a culture of service and pride in being a public servant, a servant of the people.

“We have made inroads into international and regional platforms by reporting on areas such as human rights obligations and financial and tax treaties and labour matters. Our institutions, created on 10-10-10, are growing from strength to strength and our advisory councils are finding their way and their place in the totality of constitutional institutions necessary for proper governance of our country.”

There is also a system in place to work formally with the French side.

Looking back, “we can safely say 2012, while challenging, saw the best come out in many of us. Of course, we had our setbacks and disappointments as well. Since our goal is to rid our island of the scourge of crime, we still have a long way to go, but in that area too small, but significant steps have been made.”

Wescot-Williams said, “It is also our belief that private and public sectors must continue to work together to bring down significantly the youth unemployment rate. At several places of business during the Christmas season, I encountered young people who got a job for the season, one for just a day. This reinforces the point that in a vibrant economy, there will be work and that training is the key.”

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