Philipsburg:--- The seven Ministers from the Council of Ministers representing the National Alliance, Democratic Party, and Independent Members of Parliament launched the long overdue Governing program on Wednesday at the Sonesta Great Bay Resort. Those that attended the launching of the Governing Program for the years 2012 to 2014 were not too impressed because most of what was given in the presentations by each Minister was information that was provided to the media already. The governing program that was presented on Monday is one that was put together by the current government who took office nineteen months after St. Maarten became a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The National Alliance, Democratic Party, and the Independent Members of Parliament formed the current government in May 21st, 2012 under the theme "Working for the People". This new government represents ten of the fifteen parliamentary seats. In the government declaration that was signed by the new coalition they promised to work and develop several areas in their action plan. Those areas are education, infrastructure, district improvement, housing, health care, social welfare, economy, environment, safety, and security.
The first Minister to make his presentation to the gathering was Deputy Prime Minister William Marlin whose portfolios are housing, environment, infrastructure, energy affairs, and spatial development. Marlin reminded the gathering that it is almost eight months ago his government (second government since St. Maarten became a country) took office. Marlin said that his Ministry has been placing focus on the governing program which he said would enhance the various districts and businesses will be more active.
Marlin made clear that every Minister that forms the current coalition government has a role to play in order for them to reach the goals they set for the people of St. Maarten. Marlin said his Ministry is busy working on the huge backlog of building permits requests. Another focus for the VROMI Minister is to provide clean and affordable housing for the people of St. Maarten. Marlin said his government realized how important it is to make available cheap and affordable housing especially for those that are now renting. He said another aim of his government is to pursue public and private partnership to eradicate the "shanty towns". He said now that government is faced with the reality of no more domain land available to them, they are now purchasing land to provide a decent living. Marlin said the development of districts in partnerships has several benefits to providing people with decent living accommodation. He said social cohesion and integration will be encouraged by programs that uplift the districts through decent homes, adequate infrastructure, with overall cleanliness. Marlin further explained that the construction of two, three, and four bedroom homes already started with a target group being the young professionals. He said the profits that are made from the sale of those homes will go towards the re-financing the social homes and the expansion of the home program for senior citizens with an additional 24 homes which are constructed in the Belvedere area. Marlin said his government's intention is to offer homes to senior citizens for no more than $50.00 per month. Government is still working on finalizing the purchase of Emilio Wilson Estate.
Marlin said the community district report paints a stark picture of the ten districts. He said the residents of these districts complained about the running sewage and other water and its stench. The VROMI Minister said very soon this plague will be a thing of the past.
VROMI is also concentrating on constructing a waste treatment plant for Cole Bay and Cape Bay area. Garbage disposal has been a serious challenge to government for decades. Marlin said the dumping of waste in the middle of the Great Salt Pond created a man made mountain which stands at 24m high. He said his government is in the process of working out plans to offer a sustainable solution to waste management.
Marlin further explained that the intention of his government is to build links two and six while they intend to complete the ring road.
The second Minister that gave a presentation was Minister of Justice Roland Duncan. Duncan promised to submit a list with the actions his Ministry has undertaken and plans to undertake. Duncan said while there is a need for public safety and security there is a 'red line" running through the entire matter. With regards to safety and security, the Minister said the police needs to be upgraded while there is a great need for more infrastructures. Duncan said one of the things that the people need to know is that the current police headquarter is in need of urgent repairs. The justice minister said just recently they acquired a property in Sucker Garden and the intention is move some of the offices to the new building and they will construct a police training center and the same location. A gym, two shooting ranges, and classrooms would also be at that location. He said the community police have been installed.
Duncan said when they look at the youths and solving crime they also have to take into consideration article 30 of the country's constitution which clearly states that youth and adult prisoners cannot be together, however, there are no facilities in place to house young criminals. St. Maarten has to build and provide more space so that they can comply with the constitution of the country. Duncan said the prosecutor had to agree not to touch certain areas because of the problems that exist at the Pointe Blanche Prison.
The Justice Minister further stated that prisoners have a right to rehabilitation while the Justice Ministry also has to deal with problems of the youth (criminals) and he already has a comprehensive plan which he will soon deliver to Parliament and other stakeholders. He said if the Justice Ministry does not get the necessary tools and facilities then they will not be able to execute the new penal code which was recently approved by parliament.
Finance Minister Roland Tuitt in his presentation focused on tax compliance and the changes that have been made to the road tax (number plates). Tuitt said he is happy that after eight months of hard work the NA,DP, IND Government is able to present its governing program. Tuitt said since the change of constitutional status where country St. Maarten is operating in a dualistic manner each Minister within the Council of Ministers can take their own decisions. Tuitt said due to the economic and challenging times it is imperative that the government works with its people. He said it is only when government and its people are working towards a common goal progress will become a reality.
Tuitt said his Ministry is tasked with safeguarding the finances and well being of government. The Finance Minister said his government's intention is to improve the financial situation on St. Maarten. Therefore, they have been working with the tax authority to improve compliance. He said they are receiving some assistance from the Dutch Government while he is also focusing on cleaning up the tax registry by writing off old debts. Tuitt said while he is making several changes in order to benefit the government and tax payers, he is not able to do it if he does not have the right tools. That is why his Ministry is busy working on putting in place a proper ICT system which would connect all the various departments. The ICT installation is expected to be finalized by February 2013.
Minister of Education, Sports, and Youth Affairs Silveria Jacobs in her presentation said that her Ministry has placed focus on where the Education Ministry is going. The aim of the Ministry is to be efficient and effective in order to deliver a well rounded education to the youths of St. Maarten. Minister Jacobs said the objective of her Ministry is to set national standards, while building education and pride for the students on St. Maarten. The Education Minister said she is also focusing on improving the literacy level of English and Dutch in all schools on St. Maarten. As for culture, she said her aim is to promote culture continuously.
Minister of Health, Social Affairs, and Labour Cornelius de Weever dubbed his Ministry as the most hardworking Ministry. Minister De Weever said he has budget of 59 million guilders with 29 civil servants working in the Ministry. De Weever said in the year 2011 it was about laying the foundation while during the year 2012 they executed. He said his Ministry is critical to society therefore he took the responsibility to ensure sustainable growth, employment, social safety, and improved health status for the people of St. Maarten.
Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation, and Telecommunication Romeo Pantophlet told the gathering that his Ministry is the biggest and busiest in the Council of Ministers. Pantophlet said that government owned companies, such as the airport, harbor, and the disaster management plan falls under him including the small business association and EDC. Minister Pantophlet said that in the tourism industry they have been busy working on the St. Maarten Tourism Authority (STA). Minister Pantophlet said he started working with the Tourist Office to ensure that the island is properly marketed. The tourism Minister said he has been planning to embark on aggressive tourism marketing program where they will be focusing on the Latin American, Canadian, Scandinavian, and German markets. Pantophlet said that 60% of the tourists come from the United States and he is of the opinion that they have to have a backup plan. The Minister said he also concentrating on the South American market in order to have year round tourism on St. Maarten. The Minister said that the next FCCA conference will be held on St. Maarten and that would enable the island to market itself better while bringing in additional income. Another convention that will be held on St. Maarten is the COPA convention which they are currently working on. Minister Pantophlet said when it comes to diversification in the tourism industry they plan to focus on medical tourism, sports tourism, religious tourism, and the MICE tourism. He said the intention is to have a convention center built on the island where they can host more conventions. With this in mind the Minister said that St. Maarten would need additional facilities such as the drag strip and cricket stadium. The Minister assured that the two projects the (drag strip and cricket stadium) will be built. He said a decision will be taken by the Politicians on its location but he will not get into the discussion since he is a professional Minister.
The last speaker was Prime Minister Sarah Wescot Williams who said that the governing program will be promoted widely through the social media in the form of a Facebook page, where the community of St. Maarten can keep up to date with both the launching and components of the program.
Wescot Williams said that in the Governing Program the Government of St. Maarten has prioritized areas impacting the lives of the citizens of modern day St. Maarten and has directed its focus toward the enhancement of the quality of life of the people. This focus of the Governing Program is on EDUCATION, INFRASTRUCTURE, DISTRICT IMPROVEMENT AND HOUSING, HEALTH CARE AND SOCIAL WELFARE, ECONOMY, ENVIRONMENT, and SAFETY AND SECURITY.
The three hour program ended with a get together at the Sonesta Great Bay Resort.