Opinion: Emil Lee resigns

POSTED: 03/31/14 11:36 PM

Below is the unabridged letter SHTA-President Emil Lee sent yesterday to the board members of the organization.

After careful consideration, I have decided to tender my resignation as President of SHTA as well as my position on the board of the SHTA.  I would suggest for this to take effect as of March 28, 2014 which will make an even 13 years (to the day) that I have been President of the SHTA.

We have been through good times and bad times. We have weathered storms together and participated in St Maarten’s recovery.  We have seen the growth of SHTA’s reputation as a well-respected and influential stakeholder in the community.   As a valued and committed stakeholder, we have participated in countless meetings and structurally participate in permanent committees such as the labor tripartied, integrity committees, economic monitoring committee, SER, Economic Recovery fund committee and more.   We have participated in the formation of the Tour Map or tourism master plan.

We have sponsored many worth causes, charities and events.

We have supported the marketing and promotion of St Maarten as a vacation destination.

As a stakeholder in SMART, we bring key tourism partners to St Maarten on an annual basis.

The Crystal Pineapple Awards has blossomed into a highly respected and anticipated community event.

We have supported our many Airline partners and participated closely in bringing in new airlift like Spirit airlines, Jet Blue and Copa to St Maarten.

We have helped to make integrity, accountability and transparency part of the day to day discussion in St Maarten.

In reality, the list of our many accomplishments goes on and on, however, despite our many positive accomplishments, I have a feeling that critical and fundamental changes remain elusive.

The cries from the private sector for structured public private partnership within the tourism industry have been for the most part ignored for 20 years, with the exception of the ERF committee.  Over the years, I have seen the squandering of resources; poor planning, lack of policy, complicated bureaucracy and slow approvals for funding requests seriously handicap the performance of the Tourism industry.  Despite the recognition that the STA or St Maarten Tourism Authority is a critical structure to propel our tourism industry forward, the STA is still not in place. It is amazing that we have dismantled the Netherland Antilles and formed Country St Maarten in less time.  The only plausible reason for not implementing is a lack of political support and motivation.

It is widely recognized that the TOT is a destructive tax, incentivizing residents and businesses to purchase abroad thereby bypassing local businesses.  Government acknowledges that tax compliance is estimated to be a mere 40%.  Numerous studies have indicated the need to shift from direct to indirect taxation.  Yet, conflicts of interest and possible corruption have left St Maarten with the Taxand debacle and criminal investigations but no structured movement to overhauling the tax system. The only plausible reason for not implementing is a lack of political support or motivation.

If we are to ever reduce our dependency on private vehicles, St Maarten needs a proper functioning public transportation system.  The use of bus and taxi licenses as tools to purchase political support undermines the ability of government to create a proper public transportation system.  Additionally, when the metrics for handing out licenses are about purchasing political support the original intention of providing local employment to those in need becomes a secondary or tertiary concern.  The only plausible reason for not implementing is a lack of political support or motivation.

As a tourism driven destination, we should be gathering information from our visitors at ports of entry via a TSIS or Tourism Statistical Information System.  Even though money was invested in the project via USONA, the program is DOA. (Dead on Arrival) The money has been spent with no results to show, no statistical information that our tourism sector can use to better allocate their limited marketing funds.   The only plausible reason for not implementing is a lack of political support or motivation.

Fiscal discipline, timely and realistic budget formation, long term planning, control of government expenditures, transparency and focus on development of policies are all critical to the efficient functioning of government. However, I am skeptical that the political will and motivation are there for a truly open and efficient government.

In the words of a local politician, “if you believe changing things is so easy, why don’t you put your name on a list?”  While I don’t believe change is so easy, I do believe that some changes are only possible by changing the political system.  Together we have volunteered our time to try and improve the quality of life for everyone in St Maarten; however, I don’t believe fundamental change is possible without fundamental changes to the way government operates.  For 13 years, we have tried from the outside, perhaps it is time to try and change things from the inside.

Recently, I have been asked by several political parties to consider contesting for a position in the upcoming Parliamentary elections.  While I haven’t decided if I will participate or in what capacity, the discussions are of a nature and level of seriousness that I believe it will be increasingly difficult for me to maintain a non-political status.  The non-political nature of SHTA has always been a critical component in the SHTA’s ability to work with government irrespective of who is in power at a particular moment. I believe it would be hypocritical to speak about integrity and transparency and have my actions demonstrate a different reality.  Using SHTA as a platform to launch a political agenda would be hypocritical and even worse destructive to the SHTA. I believe that my deliberation about joining the political arena jeopardizes SHTA’s non-political status and therefore makes my continued presidency untenable.

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, it has been my greatest pleasure to serve with such a talented and committed group of individuals.  In all my experiences, I have yet to find a finer board of directors.  I am delighted that Eveline Henriquez Dijkhoffz will be assuming the role as President of SHTA.  She is one of the hardest working, efficient and intelligent persons that I have had the privilege of knowing.

Thank you for the years of trust and confidence in me as your president.  It is hard to imagine the wealth of experience and knowledge that I have developed during my tenure, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity, but most importantly, thank you for the many wonderful and fun moments we have shared together.

With the fondest of regards,

Emil Lee,

President SHTA


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