The campaign promises of 2010: Second hospital-plan is already four years old

POSTED: 08/1/14 11:26 PM

St. Maarten – The campaign promises are flying far and wide again in the run-up to the August 29 elections. How did our political parties do in 2010? What did they promise and what became of it?

Let’s begin with an obvious example: the claim by the United People’s party (UP) – “We ready for our new medical center.” On September 15, 2010, the final campaign meeting of the UP took place on the grounds of the still unfinished ring road. Gerrit Schotte, leader of Movementu Futuro Kòrsou who was to become the first Prime Minister of Curacao before he got entangled in a web of scandals, endorsed the UP and lit up the meeting with his presence.

UP-leader Theo Heyliger made his entrée in a carnivalesque atmosphere, dancing to the podium while cameras flashed and supporters wanted pictures with him. That evening, Heyliger spoke about “the construction of a second hospital.” That the UP is now, almost four years later, ready for a new medical center, is therefore not such a surprise. Remarkably however, the 2010 campaign promise did not get a follow up during the past couple of years – not when the UP was in government, and not when the party sat in the opposition benches.

Earlier in the month, on September 4, Heyliger promised the creation of 300 jobs within the first 100 days in office. Those jobs were linked to the construction of the causeway across the lagoon. It is uncertain whether this project really created 300 jobs but if it did, they are all gone now, because the project is finished.

The UP furthermore promised the establishment of a housing fund – financed by the airport – for the construction of new homes. “At least fifteen small contractors will be used to build these houses,” the party-leader said in 2010.

Democratic Party candidate number 9 in 2010, Perry Geerlings spoke of “the need to go back to basics” – a slogan the later UP-Minister Maurice Lake made his own to the point that party-leader Heyliger once called him “Mr. Back to Basics” in a Parliament meeting.

The 2010 UP manifesto spoke of incentives to stimulate the establishment of brand names and 5-star hotels on the island. A bit more than one year in office, UP’s Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Franklin Meyers presented his plan for “2,000 new jobs, an upgrade for all hotels and guesthouses within three years and two brand name hotels and 500 new hotel rooms in the next two years.” It never happened but this could be due to the fact that the UP was forced out of the coalition in 2012.

What else did the UP have in mind? Stimulating agriculture (to reduce the need for foreign suppliers), hydroponic and aquaponic projects, a slaughterhouse, a government owned IT-company, bus terminals, more bus stops and more paid parking.

The UP also wanted an immigration policy that accommodates the employment of locals. The Democratic Party, once the home of UP-leader Heyliger, wanted to go in a different direction and relax the rules of the work permit policy. The party wanted to do away with age restrictions, the housing requirement and time limitations.

The National Alliance attacked the UP’s stance on immigration with an ad headlined Stop Theo Now. The NA described the UP-approach as a threat to business and a danger to employees.

Other UP-plans included the establishment of a permanent environmental committee consisting of representatives from the public and private sector and from environmental organizations. The party also intended to charge consumers for the use of plastic grocery bags and promote reusable shopping bags at the same time.

Of course, the UP was not the only party to make campaign promises. All parties did. The National Alliance for instance promised to remove the turnover tax on food items like milk, cheese, flour, baby food, sugar and bread. This obviously never happened.

The NA furthermore promised the construction of 500 “government condos” and jobs linked to the construction of a cricket stadium, a racetrack and the tourism industry. The cricket stadium and the racetrack never materialized, nor did the jobs these projects should have created.

Furthermore, the National Alliance promised to increase the minimum wage to 1,800 guilders per month. Currently, the minimum wage is around 1,443 guilders per month, so if the party wants to repeat this promise, it is looking at an increase of 24.7 percent.

Another campaign promise was to remove the wage tax on the first 3,000 guilders of income “as a first step to remove the wage tax completely. Then you will keep all the money you earn,” the NA claimed in a newspaper advertisement.

A couple of days before the elections, UP-leader Heyliger said that Dr. Ruth Douglass was to become the country’s first minister of public health. That did not happen: the UP formed a coalition with the DP, but public health went – briefly, it appeared in December 2010 – to Maria Buncamper-Molanus, who was after her forced departure succeeded by Cornelius de Weever.

Another unfulfilled promise the UP made was the elimination of school fees. That would have cost the country a pretty penny, based on raw numbers: 5,000 children in primary schools and 3,000 in secondary schools. With school fees of 800 to 900 guilders per child, this would have cost between 6.4 and 7.2 million guilders (approximately $3.6 to $4 million). It did not happen.

At the last campaign meeting in 2010, Heyliger stepped away from the work permit policy in his manifesto, saying that there would be no moratorium on work permits. He promised to fix the ring road and the dump and to create 800 new parking spaces on Pond Island. The dump is still the dump, the ring road is still unfinished and we have not seen those 800 parking spaces either yet.

The elections in 2010 marked also the first time that the Today Newspaper did elections polls using the network of telecom provider UTS.

The poll for party preference attracted 930 valid votes and gave the United People’s party 58 percent, the National Alliance 23 percent and the Democratic Party 11 percent. A mock election at the St. Maarten Academy practically mirrored this outcome. From 503 votes cast, the UP won 57 percent, the National Alliance 30.4 and the DP 11.

The outcome of the elections however was somewhat different: the National Alliance won 45.9 percent, ahead of the UP (36.1 percent) and the DP (17.6 percent). It gave the NA 7 seats, the UP 6 and the DP 2. While the NA won the elections, it lost the formation, because the party did not manage to form a collation with the UP or with the DP.

Another Today-poll that asked Chippie-users to indicate a preference for the country’s first prime minister gave Theo Heyliger 52 percent, William Marlin 24.4 percent and Sarah Wescot-Williams 16.2 percent. However, Wescot-Williams became prime minister of the first UP-DP cabinet and she remained on that post in the following two cabinets.

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