Fellow citizens of St. Maarten,
It is with a grateful heart that I take the opportunity to address you as we face another new year.
Grateful for the opportunities that lie ahead and for the accomplishments that are now behind us.
This I do, even as the year 2012, like many before it, will join the ranks of years of global challenges and uncertainties.
St. Maarten during 2012 celebrated its second anniversary of country status -albeit within the Dutch Kingdom- and during that time has faced the challenges of any modern country today.
These challenges manifested themselves especially in the areas of maintaining a robust economy in the face of global crisis and uncertainties, one after another.
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 our community.Government is enabled to do so through contributions by corporate and individual citizens in the form of taxes and fees for government services.
In both the areas of social services and taxes, the people of St. Maarten 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.
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.
In the meantime, government has and will continue to implement incremental measures, such as the increase in the pension allowance to Naf. 1000,-- per month, the increase in pension age and changes to some tax and fee structures, such as the vehicle road tax, immigration fees etc.
For a growing country such as ours with the obligations that come with this status, a constant challenge remains the creation of income for government versus its obligations and citizens' expectations.
Government recognizes 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 surely impacted the "make a fast dollar" mentality and economy of the past.
Government, the private sector and civil society during the past months 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.
This attitude 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.
2012 has therefore 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.
There are however, some values that are not spelled out in so many words, yet they are critical to our further growth as a nation. Respect for country and for one another, leadership by example and time for family and community, especially for our children.
The NA/DP/I3 government which I am privileged to lead 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.
We will continue to build on the strengths which we have and those are many. Resilience, friendliness, ambition and creativity are some that come to mind.
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.
I encourage these initiatives and creativity by the community councils and other volunteer workers. Government is therefore resolute in its determination to fill the void created by the cessation of Dutch social funding through the AMFO funding agency. A St. Maarten Development fund will succeed this agency.
There too, the opportunity exists to create a national social agenda, in which GO's and NGO's will both play a role.
Government will continue to bring the services of Government directly to the districts and thus bring governance closer to the people. We will be expanding on the work which we have been doing through the broadening of our services to reach all citizens.
Early in 2013, the first Service Center will open in Simpsonbay, providing vital public services such as those of the labor, social, and receiver's offices and the civil registry.
The community help desk concept will be further developed and perfected to meet the needs of especially the more challenged members of our society.
During the past year, government has invested a lot in our own public servants to foster a culture of service and pride in being a public servant, a servant of the people. This is required of a country and any forward thinking people.
We have made inroads into international and regional platforms, by reporting on areas such as human right obligations and financial and tax treaties and labor 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.
W have a system in place to work formally with our French brothers and sisters on matters that affect us all, both North and South.
Again, looking back briefly, 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.
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 key.
It is a delicate balance to arrive at, but not an impossible task and to use an old cliche: "all noses must be pointed in the same direction."
This is government's aim with the process to arrive a a National Development Plan.
In order to launch and implement the National Development Plan we will need the involvement of all, of each and every St. Martiner, to craft this new vision for St. Maarten.
With a preview of what promises to be an eventful and exciting year, I would like to wish all a Prosperous and Healthy 2013.
Make the best of the new year, be proud to live here and may God bless you and our Sweet St. Maarten Land.