PHILIPSBURG:--- Leader of the United People's (UP) Party and Member of Parliament Rolando Brison says, "Within less than a year, Minister of TEATT Roger Lawrence made significant strides towards improving the economic reality for St. Maarten."
He said the UP Party was happy to have had the experience Lawrence brought from the corporate world to the Ministry of TEATT (Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transportation & Telecommunication). The former Minister officially resigned last week, sighting his ongoing health challenges as the main reason for his decision. His resignation now leaves the UP Party without a Minister of TEATT.
"We are very grateful for the get-it-done approach Lawrence had, and this was evident in some of the things he was able to finalize, which were on the books for months, even years," said Brison.
Omar Ottley, Minister of Public Health, Social Development & Labour (VSA) is Acting Minister of TEATT and has approached his role as Acting Minister of TEATT with the same tenacity as has been displayed thus far in the VSA Ministry.
Lawrence, a former Interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Port St. Maarten, was ceremoniously sworn in as TEATT Minister on August 16, 2021, and immediately hit the ground running. Since taking office, Lawrence, who was acutely aware of the challenges within the Government's Tourism Bureau to act on destination marketing and promotion of St. Maarten, made sure to finalize the Draft Legislation to establish the Sint Maarten Tourism Authority as an autonomous agency outside of Government. The legislation mimics the Aruba Tourism Authority's model, and soon TEATT will begin stakeholder consultation on establishing the entity.
"The EDC Economic Development Corporation has been inactive since 2013. Under Lawrence's guidance, it was reactivated and will be used to stimulate economic growth and make lending outside of Government possible. The financial statements for the EDC are completed up to 2021, and TEATT is presently working on installing the Management Team and Supervisory Board for the EDC," said Brison.
While many were already writing off the idea of St. Maarten finalizing United States US-Pre Clearance, Lawrence saw the opportunity to revisit the concept to show its financial benefits. TEATT has reached out to Deloitte to propose the draft economic and business case for US Preclearance and is awaiting their response.
Former Minister Lawrence also oversaw refinancing the 2012 bond loan at PJIA, which was completed in May 2022. Local investors now hold the bonds to secure St. Maarten's interest. When the bonds were held internationally, investors had, on occasions, threatened to call in the loan following the devastation of Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) by hurricane Irma in 2017. The refinancing also gave room for capital investments like the FBO building, Fire & Rescue and relocation of the fuel farm. In addition, PJIA will invest in the airport's surroundings, such as roundabouts, fencing and guardrails.
Following the lockdown and economic downturn sparked by the Corona Virus COVID-19 global pandemic, St. Maarten had to decide its next steps to revive the economy quickly. Lawrence and his TEATT Ministry drafted the "Red Carpet" investor policy to facilitate significant investments like that in the Morgan and Westin.
"Minister Lawrence also saw to improving working and supervision in the gaming sector, legislation on civil aviation, reducing red tape when starting a business and enhancing the collection of data and statistics were concerned," explained Brison.
He said the Minister did exceptional work, such as ensuring the audit by SOAB of the Bureau of Telecommunication and Post and improving the telecommunications sector. Discussions are ongoing to bring the utility tariffs under the supervision of the BTP as well. Under Lawrence's leadership, the SMMPF was reinstalled and reactivated to assist Government in preserving its heritage and making it accessible to the tourism industry. He also facilitated the creation of a task force between TEATT and Finance to collect owed license fees and controller fees.
With the help of the Port of St. Maarten, TEATT repaired Front Street, and the Ministry reviewed the multi-annual high-level strategic plan of the Port. The Council of Ministers COM's approval is still needed for the Port to continue discussing strategic partnerships, new berthing agreements, and fees with the Cruise lines.
"No one can predict the future, and often we see what appears to be good on the surface, not knowing that underlying issues are playing a role that will ultimately slow us down. In the case of this charismatic Minister and public servant, I hope his health is restored, and he can return to doing the things he loves. I pray God's guidance on him and his family through this challenging time, and I ask a grateful nation to keep him and his family in your prayers," said Brison.