Governor Holiday’s address at opening parliamentary year – Country’s financial situation remains under pressurePOSTED: 09/12/12 2:09 PM
St. Maarten – “The government will continue to take steps to ensure that the St. Maarten Medical Center meets the needs of a growing and changing demography as well as expands its services to accommodate more medical specialties and support services. In addition, government intends to further the development of medical tourism. At the same time, the government shall build its oversight capacity by placing emphasis on an effective inspectorate of health.”
With this part of Governor drs. Eugène Holiday’s address at the opening of the new parliamentary year the Wescot-Williams cabinet sent a clear message to the management and board of the embattled St. Maarten Medical Center, indicating at the same time that the health inspectorate needs improvement.
The governor noted that St. Maarten since it obtained autonomy within the Kingdom 23 months ago has faced the challenges of a volatile global environment. “Weak growth, high fuel costs and persistent financial fragility – and the end is not in sight yet,” the governor said. “With our tourism-based open economy these developments continue to put pressure on the financial and economic situation of St. Maarten.”
Governor Holiday said that the government visions a cohesive national society and that it wants “to strengthen awareness of and pride in being a St. Maartener.” Culture is the unifying factor that represents the identity of the people, he added. The governor did not refer to the longstanding wish by grass roots movements to define “the St. Maartener” in the country’s state regulation. Instead he referred to the promotion of the flag and anthem, the building of a national museum and a national theater for the performing arts.
There is of course a snag: “A critical reality is the challenge of limited financial resources to fund the plans required to achieve the envisioned objectives,” the governor said. Amendments to the 2012 budget “have led to a shift in priorities, while government has given its support to (some) ongoing initiatives to avoid potential legislation and stagnation of other vital activities.”
The governor announced the establishment of a comprehensive integrity policy towards the end of this year and the opening of the Integrity Bureau per January 1 of next year. A public services center in Simpson Bay will function as a pilot project for similar centers in other districts, including the one that will be housed in the new government administration building at an unknown future date. The service centers are designed to bring government policies closer to the citizens.
The National Health Insurance legislation will be presented for decision making this year, the governor said. “Additionally the government is preparing a new law to strengthen controls on the quality, registration and training requirements of medical professionals.”
The governor furthermore announces the establishment of a Council for the Elderly and a Human Rights Platform “to enable initiatives based on consensus and consultation.” Social security policies and legislation have been reviewed; a decision about the findings will be taken this year. “The government will introduce a revised financial aid ordinance that adjusts the benefits to the cost of living, and eases current bureaucracy,” the governor said.
Pension reform includes the increase of the retirement age from 60 to 62 in combination with adjusted pension-benefits.
On the economic front, the government wants to revise the foreign employment policy “in tripartite dialogue”. Under review are also the dismissal law, employment agencies and curbing the use of 6-month labor contracts.
Affordable housing is “a core element” of the governments program, the governor said. “The ambition is to foster home ownership for young professionals and to build affordable homes for senior citizens.”
The government wants to further develop the marine park and to designate the Emilio Wilson Estate as a terrestrial park. “The government plans to formalize the purchase of the Emilio Wilson Estate within short and charge existing non-governmental organizations with its management.”
The government’s energy policy includes the use of alternative energy (solar and wind) and a net metering policy that will enable citizens to sell electricity they generate back to the utilities company. The waste to energy plant on Pond Island also features in the government’s plans.
Governor Holiday said that the police force will grow in “the next few years” to strength of 400 personnel. “That will meet the community’s and visitors’ demand for higher security and visibility of police officers. The objective of the government is to put safety as a first priority.”
On the tourism front, the government will establish the Tourism Authority per January 1 of next year. The goal is to realize year-round tourism. “Actions include promoting Princess Juliana International airport as a hub, the development of niche tourism markets like convention and sports tourism, offshore educational and medical services and the strengthening of the South American and European markets.”
The governor also mentioned an elusive initiative: the establishment of a Gaming Control Board.
Apparently a decision about dollarization is still pending. “The government will on the monetary front in preparation of its currency decision solicit broad advice on the currency issue,” the governor said.
He also announced plans to set up a stock exchange “to give an impulse to St. Maarten as a financial center.” Compliance with the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force is essential “for the confidence in our financial system and economy.”
The government will establish a foreign relations commission and further strengthen its foreign relations directorate, the governor said. A priority is “stepping up the effective cooperation and partnering with French St. Martin.”
The governor lifted the veil off the plans for tax reform, saying that the overhaul includes the introduction of flat income and profit taxes.”The first phase of the overhaul, which is planned to go into effect in 2013, will be aimed at providing direct financial relief and more spending power to those citizens that earn a maximum of 5,000 guilders ($2,973) per month.”
Lastly, the government is preparing a dividend policy for government owned companies. “It will take into account the companies’ investment strategies and debt ratios. The policy is needed to bring government and its companies in compliance with the requirements of good corporate governance,” the governor said.