A New Year's message usually contains hopeful expectations for the approaching 12 calendar months. In our case, we are ringing in the 2nd decade of the 21st century. Ten years later is a good reference point for more than one reason and the number 10 has an stirring ring to it.
The year 2010 starts off on an exciting note. While not the most favored election, there will be the election for the Antillean Parliament on January 22, 2010 and from all indications the last one for that Parliament. It is also anticipated that a few short months later, this will be followed by another election, this time for persons to represent you in our new country.
None of this would have been possible were it not for the years of work and preparations Saint Martin put into the process of becoming that country within the Dutch Kingdom. That prospect is now closer than ever and Saint Martin can rightfully claim to be the catalyst of the constitutional changes taking place within the Dutch Kingdom.
Am I ignoring the past 12 months? How could I ever? 2009 has been a year of so many changes and challenges for Saint Martin, the likes of which we have not seen for a long time.
These changes and challenges have permeated all layers of our society, politically, economically and socially.
How could I not reflect on the political intricacies that dominated the political landscape of Saint Martin, starting in the latter part of 2008 and reaching their culmination in 2009.
The Democratic Party, as the Party that governed Saint Martin uninterruptedly since 1999, was of course affected in no small measure by the political occurrences of 2009, but its foundation remained strong and its members and supporters steadfast.
Personally, I hold the view that the rift in the Democratic Party, which surfaced in 2009, was brewing for some time and in retrospect, it was a good thing to get it over with, even though it meant losing control of the majority in the island council.
I am a firm believer that in retreat (not defeat, retreat), we can examine our challenges, we can take a fresh look at things. The political upheaval that came our way in 2009 has given the Democratic Party that kind of opportunities.
From the perspective of an opposition party since June 8, 2009, new insights could have been gained and our focus could be redirected.
It is with a much clearer sense of direction and purpose that the Democratic Party is taking part in the election of January 22, 2010, at the same time preparing ourselves for the election which will herald in the new status and a government that for the first time will be solely in charge of the affairs of the Saint Martin citizens.
The election in January is important. The persons you elect must ensure that the process to country is completed and Saint Martin's interests defended tooth and nail in this process.
Economically, we have been and are still being challenged, as we like most others combat the fall-out of the global financial and economic crises. More persons on Saint Martin have been affected by this crisis, than a first assessment would have one believe.
The amount of persons in search of employment, regardless to what the records show, is on the rise. For many, income has shrunk. And with the unemployment, the spread of poverty on Saint Martin is raising its head.
Saint Martin needs to combat this phenomenon before it gets totally out of hand. We can not continue with superficial improvements, when just below the surface, the signs of something amiss are starting to manifest themselves.
Coupled with the escalating crime, it should be clear that as a community we need to refocus and re-examine our priorities, as a community.
The legalizing of persons via the so-called Brooks Tower Accord, most of whom through their labor have contributed to our society for years is nothing more than the rectification of a situation that has been allowed to exist for much too long.
However, let us not turn a blind eye to the effects of this measure on our community as a whole. Most of these "new" residents of Saint Martin were forced to live on the peripherals of society, because of their illegal status. With this being rectified, we need to take into account that official population numbers will skyrocket with all consequences (positive and negative) of such for areas such as education, health, social security and the like. We need to be prepared to deal with these.
It is we on Saint Martin who will have to deal with this new reality. That these persons have been or will be given one year's residency is but a short respite before our island will have to decide where we go from here. How will these persons be treated long term? A clear policy needs to be developed and in time, because before we know it, that year will be over.
Without the "soft" sectors, such as education and health keeping pace with the hard infrastructure, we will be neglecting the most important factors of our overall development.
And then, there are the matters of crime and violence, escalating at an alarming rate in our view. Clearly, the calls to the central government at this time are going unheeded and we need intermediate measures as we work on the long term plan to improve the organization of our police force.
It's no comfort to the victims of crime to compare our crime statistics with others who fare worse than we do. It is just too much for our island and its people.
Yet, we can and must be hopeful about the new year ahead of us. We have some undisputed strengths as a people and as a nation. Our diversity being one of those strengths.
Diversity is not the equivalent of separation. Diversity does demand a common purpose and common goals as a nation; agreed upon priorities. Diversity demands tolerance and empathy.
During the holiday season, year after year, we see the best come out in our citizens, the care for one another and for the less fortunate among us. Let's not put that goodheartedness away until the next season. We must keep the connectivity in our community going.
Realize that as the world is more and more interconnected, so is our island. For our island to continue to prosper, we need to pay particular attention to the more vulnerable ones in our community. Social safety nets must be construed for those in need. Districts must continue to be empowered. They are the cornerstones of our community.
And let's not forget our youth. Let's pool all resources available to assist our young people. Let's give the Youth Policy some teeth and undertake action.
Our proverbial plate is full as we enter the new year, but guess what? This has not deterred us in the past and it surely will not now.
I call on all residents of our beautiful island to join hands this coming year as we put on the biggest fight yet to move from standing at the threshold of a new status to embarking on the road of country. A rocky road it sometimes will be , but one that holds great prospects if we are up to challenge.
I continue to believe in that indomitable spirit of the St. Martiner, our ability to lift ourselves up by the bootstraps when necessary and to look forward to better days ahead.
With this in mind, and on behalf of the entire Democratic Party, I wish the people of our island, here and abroad, a most prosperous and healthy new year. I hope 2010 brings us all we wish for and more and I pray that God will continue to bless our island nation Saint Martin abundantly.
Happy New Year!