My colleagues and the people of St. Maarten a very pleasant good afternoon.
In commemorating October 10, 2010, instinctively as a public servant you start to think about your role. You are de facto part of the government and governing, so you reflect and look ahead from that premise. As public servants, however, there are times when you get so caught up in your bubble of working day and night for your people that occasionally you forget that the best gauge of information about your country is a five-minute discussion with any citizen.
By now I believe the people of St. Maarten have come to know me as someone who speaks based on facts. I do not shoot from the hip hoping to hit a target. Nor will I speak today about 10-10-10 by pretending as I know exactly what's on the mind of our people 10 years later. The same way I prepare for other meetings is the same way I prepared for this one. I went to the people and I listened.
So Mr. Chairman today I will share my thoughts about that historic day in St. Maarten's history, the years that followed, the perspective of our people and my thoughts as we forge ahead in building our country.
The premise that we entered into this new constitutional status was that we would be better off. Better off how and why did we believe such? Was it that we thought Curacao was the bully in the former country the Netherland Antilles and we could work much easier with the Netherlands? Did we foresee that the fights the Netherlands Antilles put up against the Netherlands on our behalf were real?
What is very clear is that we weren’t ready and our premise wasn’t based on real-time. I say real-time as we seemingly weren’t aware of what all the Netherlands Antilles meant to St. Maarten as an island and a partner in the Antilles. I myself will be honest enough to state that I truly believed in the government that was there, that we were ready for 10-10-10. Today I must say I was wrong.
We weren’t ready nor were we made ready by those that gave us the opportunity to become autonomous. We all failed and today we hear screams so well locally as across the ocean that the charter failed and we cannot afford our autonomy. Sad thing is that our premise could have been right had we prepared ourselves well before 10-10-10 and get the necessary entities and people in place to ensure that we could have executed our autonomy in a manner acceptable in today’s world.
In giving me his perspective, Culturist Fernando Clarke summed up 10-10-10 as a delicious pie in the sky just waiting for us. He said 10 years later, we are not sure if have we “seen” the pie in the sky, if we have “tasted” it, or if we are busy “eating” it. He said most people are baffled and completely lost as to what our new status delivered for the people.
The general public, he continued, are simply asking questions that were promised to them in the campaign for 10-10-10:
Where is all the money that we used to send to the Central Government in Curacao that is now supposed to remain in St. Maarten?
• Where are the full self-governance and the autonomy that we were supposed to enjoy after 10-10-10?
• Where is the mature leadership that we were looking forward to?
• Where are the improved social and economic conditions of our country?
• Is this status our final destination, or is it a road to another destiny?
• Is 10-10-10 the road to independence, or is it simply a dead-end road?
Mr. Chairman, his remarks clearly begged the questions: was our preparation efficient and effective, and were the commitments made to us and we to others upheld? This point of being prepared is one that has given me the most heartache when trying to figure it out.
I can remember when our sector ROB was in the transition to Ministry VROMI and what that meant for us. Not only the function books and job classifications and salaries played a role but also which laws needed to be anchored in place to ensure that our countries environment wouldn’t be destroyed by our country’s economy. You can see how until this day we are struggling with so many issues because we allowed an article to expire back in 2012 and not having a zoning law in place it became free for all.
But also many promises were made to the country when it was related to paying off the outstanding debts of the country and that too became what we would call in school children’s tongue a babol. We so-called missed the boat because we didn’t hand in the bills in time. It cost us millions that we had to pay ourselves. When they state how they helped cover all our bills one must stop and say; all those bills that you accepted.
When we look at the justice system and you notice the amount of agreements we signed with the Netherlands I must wonder aloud; what happened as we were part of a police force before 10-10-10 and we never had so many Dutch police officers here like after 10-10-10. Also, the premise that their main task was to combat crime but basically focused on locking up politicians clearly shows that our help was efficient but sometimes quite destructive. Making your people believe that you only cultivate and elect thieves is a deadly premise and one that until this day is in my opinion a frontrunner for some.
Our education and health have suffered serious setbacks in being prepared for the new status and clearly our own people aren’t manning many of those jobs. Many teachers and nurses are coming from abroad to assist and I say thank you for that, but we need to start putting our people in those jobs. Like we always use to say; Tis we own thing”
But we made to many errors when we signed off agreements that we KNEW we couldn’t fulfill, but just not to be put under supervision we signed off. It was the easy way out to let others come in and do the hard work and sometimes dirty work because we were afraid to deal with it ourselves. Nothing wrong in telling your own they are wrong respectfully and moving them, instead of having them dragged off in chains. We destroy our own because we allow things to happen that shouldn’t happen.
All of these things have played such a negative role in the minds of our people, most of whom were truly elated when we obtained our new constitutional status. People were proud to be so-called "away from Curacao." To use the words of another citizen who I spoke to recently:
"In 2010, I was elated and looked forward to a prosperous country St. Maarten, the no. 1 country in the Caribbean, whereby other islands would look up to us with much envy and asked: “How did you do it!” We would be debt-free!"
But alas, she said, in 2020, I am now confused! My personal take is, that we are worse off than when we were part of the Netherlands Antilles, the people are struggling more than ever as our political culture has not changed at all and it will take a lot of souls searching and cleansing to get things right!
"We are not debt free anymore but broke and Holland is trying to get ‘a dig in’ again under the disguise to save the people of St. Maarten. This could have been avoided had some entities not placed their personal interest above that of the general interest. It also saddens me to see how Holland has neglected and ignored us in the past and now, despite requests from Country St. Maarten for help."
Mr. Chairman, we need to accept that we were not effective and efficient setting up 10-10-10 and that many commitments made to us also weren’t lived up too. The time has come to hit the reset button and start fresh. We have a new parliament that in my opinion is truly trying to make a difference and we should allow them to try.
Mr. Chairman while trying to create the St. Maarten we all wanted over the past 10 years, we got caught up in the now famous theme “All politicians in St. Maarten are Corrupt” and the now also famous statement by one of our former Attorney General’s “The underworld and the Upper world are one” on St. Maarten. Maybe I shouldn’t say WE got caught up. A better phrase would be the labels were placed upon us.
The sad part is that it was never clear who the Upper World was as it clearly wasn’t only the government. Our justice is so tarnished with corruption, and please don’t think I’m now talking about our police, immigration or prison guards.
We accepted the Constitutional Court as a unique something as no other country within the Kingdom has one. It did its job well when the Integrity chamber was to be established as it ensured that our people are protected when the Ombudsman challenges a law. What is unfortunate is when we start making regulations that include an additional country making the challenge of the ombudsman not possible and thus renders the court useless, as it may not handle the matter then.
Also, the country gave in to many judicial agreements, some 37 separate agreements to be precise, which have only hurt the country. We have created a stigma that all is bad in politics. Seeing our occasional crab mentality behavior and our love for seeing our own get crucified or be made a villain in the eyes of the public, we lost much ground in building up the country as the government used its time to defend itself instead of running the country and not worrying with those statements.
When all is said and done and we look back at the past 10 years where our leaders and regular people have been constantly battled with accusations of corruption, misuse of power etc. We need to honestly ask ourselves if we did our own people right. Your vote should be your reflection of your answer and not your hypocrisy.
Our belief that we could easily work with the Dutch government proved more difficult than anticipated and for the past 10 years, it seems to have been a battle from day 1. Our coat of arms states “Semper Pro Grediens” Always progressing has not been fairly lived up too. We can seek and blame many but we are our biggest problem when it comes to progressing. We envy the other too much and we do the easy work and leave the difficult work to the outsider. So the outsider is always progressing and we are always idling. That my people we need to change and our premise for 2020-2030 is “Everyone always progressing” -- “Quesgue Semper proficiens”
In that context, I was thoroughly reminded by another citizen that opportunities for the progress of our people have in some cases strengthened over the passed ten years. This brilliant young legal mind reminded me that, in her words,
"Opportunities have been put in place and it’s up to each individual to do their part by taking the opportunities and putting in the necessary work and energy required to allow those opportunities to bare results. Otherwise, you’re just wasting time, resources, and opportunities that could have been utilized for someone else. Examples are NIPA, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry makes regular and continues efforts to help (prospective) business owners navigate the world of doing business in Sint Maarten, USM is still around and has produced many of the most productive and proactive people that I know today. Besides that, if you just look around, so many firms, businesses or institutes offer programs aimed towards improving the people in the job market. "
Mr. Chairman we need to build and support our institutions to further facilitate the development of our people and the growth of our island moving forward. There is no turning back at this stage in our development. We have learned quite a few hard lessons from 10-10-10 and have come to appreciate some things as well. Allow me to elaborate briefly on a few:
We have learned firsthand how difficult democracy can be.
When you try and understand democracy it shows in young countries that very often to many different interest play a role in democracy. While the people go to the poles to decide who will govern the country, time after time we have had governments that seemingly were controlled by big business or special interest groups that wanted to have special rules and breaks.
One of our biggest shortcomings is that we compare ourselves to others
I believe that St. Maarten wanted to often to be a little Miami, a little Amsterdam, a little Hong Kong, and sometimes even a little of other nations. The problem is we never really wanted to be ourselves as we always tried our utmost to copy and compare ourselves to others.
Disasters natural or not has turned us into beggars
Counting on the resiliency of the people of St. Maarten after every disaster is fool’s gold. We can only depend on that well of water for so long. Our people are resilient, yes, but their resiliency should not be taken for granted or be expected to cover for government's shortcomings in having mitigating plans in place to deal with the aftermath of disasters. For a country lined up in the hurricane belt with a one pillar economy, having no plans in place for disasters is downright irresponsible and injustice to your ever-resilient people. They deserve better. We must safeguard our St. Maarten spirit.
To understand the human story of 10-10-10 you had to have lived it with us to truly understand it like us.
I hear so many people that don’t live on the island talk about how the island is and their statements are primarily based on hearsay. People come down here and are paid to write reports that are based on a result they are seeking so they can always have a narrative they so desire. Many people make statements based on their desires not their realities and most dangerously, these are interpreted in the Netherlands as the country’s position.
Our governor and I say our governor and my childhood friend and baseball teammate is for me a pillar of strength, hope and pride in our young country. A man that some might complain about because of his stance on matters, but a man I truly admire as a real St. Maartener. A real son of the soil. A beacon to shine us towards a bright future. I am honored to be able to call Drs. Eugene Holiday my governor.
Did we lose our sense of directions
During the past 10 years by all the various government changes, did this cause us some economic demise and some of our possible investors?
The lack of electoral reform and stop paying all the politicians after they leave office will prevent lots of the last 10 years behavior. But also the popularity vote we chose to go after has caused more harm to the quality of the representative than in the past. A political leader today is more a name than a function as once elected lots of the political maturity is lots among the political party’s members. We saw this in the former Democratic Party that today is represented by the UPP and UD in Parliament and the SPA that today is represented by the NA and the USP and lastly with the amount of ship jumpers.
But the cardinal question is did we lose our sense of direction while politically chartering new waters with our young autonomy or are we just not really ready politically for our autonomy. Remember we got it for free, without any struggle.
We sit in here and forget that people are watching us, looking at us, listening to us and I can tell you they are not, I repeat they are NOT happy with government over the past 10 years. In fact, they are embarrassed. The same young brilliant legal mind I mentioned earlier also told me, again in her words.
"There have been a record amount of elections called in the last ten years and this is not a record we can be proud of. In the infancy of our autonomy, our government has basically run away and cowered whenever the going got tough. That demeanor does not garner respect, internally from the people of Sint Maarten whom these governments represent nor externally from foreign governments and many investors who basically deal with a new minister every time they get a meeting with a ministry. It’s embarrassing and shameful because it showcases a deep lack of professionalism and determination to do the job, they were appointed to do by those elected by the people of Sint Maarten! Frankly, it’s disrespectful towards all the voters and in particular the taxpayers who pay for these immature shenanigans."
Mr. Chairman, we must do better. For the sake of our people and our beautiful country, we must do better. We are being left behind in the Caribbean. We can do it, but we also must be mentally free. We need to be free to think for ourselves and make mistakes as no one is ever perfect. This means putting the country on the path to independence but responsibly so. It is our destiny. But we cannot get there with the same mindset, behavior, and approaches of the last 10 years.
At the end of the day, dwelling on all the wrongs and negativity won’t improve the situation for anyone, addressing them, however, and holding people accountable in whatever form or fashion deemed necessary and feasible, will certainly improve Sint Maarten.
So, let’s agree that these first 10 years of autonomy have shown us what not to do in many instances - ie. get emotional and overwhelmed when we realize being autonomous is much more work than anyone anticipated. Let’s agree we WILL LEARN from the past and take calculated steps, we will apply the necessary levels of discipline and respect to all public offices and we will champion those representing our island in a way that we can be proud of.
Everyone needs to become more self-aware of their actions and the consequences thereof.
Stand up for decency and respect like we stood up for our open borders.
Be accountable for your decisions. Apologize when you make a mistake.
Be a responsible role model for the kids and the young people, their behavior, values, and morals are a direct reflection of their family and surroundings. Display honor, not ego. Finally, be sure to hold yourself to the same high standard that you hold another to.
Not even our God is perfect in many of our eyes and we very often question it, as how often did you pray, and you did not get what you asked for. But faith is priceless as it is what you need to understand that God does listen and when the time is right your prayer will be answered.
Remember” The day you plant your seed.. is not the day you eat the fruit.
Be patient, be humble, and don’t give up.
God bless St. Maarten and its people.