We Shall Overcome
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good evening and welcome to this new year’s reception.
To begin this NEW YEAR, Marie-Louise and I, are pleased to extend warm greetings and best wishes to you and to the people of Sint Maarten. May our coming together from various sections of our community this evening, serve to help reignite the progress our country needs in the days, months and years ahead. For what better way to reignite our shared aspirations for a brighter tomorrow than through our coming together to bond.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Tonight we gather at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. At one of the most difficult periods in the lives of our people. Hurricane Irma and her aftermath have set our country back in no small way. In doing so it left you and I, all of us, with a most daunting and urgent challenge; the challenge to rebuild many years of development. As such we stand at the start of 2018, having lived through the strongest hurricane on record looking for answers. As we face that challenge I encourage you to tap into the immense power and promise of one of my favorite gospel songs: “we shall overcome”. I encourage you to do so because I am confident that we, like generation of Sint Maarteners before us, will find answers in the promise of the words: we shall overcome.
Looking back there can be no doubt that we have made great strides in responding to the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma to our island. As a result our daily life throughout the island has in large part been restored. And each day we see signs of improvement and promise. This thanks to the hard work and dedication of many persons and organizations some present and represented here tonight. Persons who, having suffered damage to their property themselves, came out and continue to come out under difficult circumstances to make progress possible. Persons, such as, the members of the disaster management team and their support staff, medical professionals, law enforcement officers, firefighters, technicians, volunteers of NGOs, business-owners and their employees, and military and police officers from our Kingdom partners, The Netherlands, Aruba, and Curacao. To all who contributed and continue to do so I say thank you for your invaluable service to the people of Sint Maarten.
Having closed off 2017 we are all aware, however, that we face an uphill climb as we move ahead. For many of our people the traditional merry and happy Christmas and new year holidays have been everything but that. Instead, we see our family, friends and neighbours who have been displaced, who live in damaged homes, and/or who have lost or face losing their jobs. This while the cost of living has increased. Meanwhile, many businesses, as well as government, have seen their revenues and liquidity dwindle.
Recovering the lost ground, ladies and gentlemen, is therefore an urgent matter. The question, therefore, is how do we plan to meet this challenge?
The answer will vary from person to person, from family to family and from organisation to organisation. There will be differences in views and approaches between and within the public and private sectors. There will be those who believe that their plans or approaches are the only way and there will be those who believe that there is no role, place or opportunity for them. There are those who will on a daily basis continue to give their all in pursuit of rebuilding our island, while there are and will be those among us who have lost confidence and as a result are losing hope.
Whatever your answer or plan, I hereby remind you that we are in this together. Together with a shared responsibility and a common purpose: the rebuilding of Sint Maarten. This ladies and gentlemen dictates that we need each other now more than ever to chart our path and pursue our shared aspirations. Let us therefore, anchored in our common purpose to rebuild Sint Maarten, resolve to not breakdown but to build each other and thus build our country up. And in so doing reach out to each other to work with each other. For unity ladies and gentlemen is the key to tapping into the promise that we shall overcome.
Guided by our common purpose let us as a people of St. Maarten rally to convert our shared challenges into shared opportunities. At this pivotal period in our history I encourage you, as individuals, corporations, public organizations, and government, to stand up for the broader societal objectives of our people. Let us therefore:
- act to create more and better jobs to sustain our people;
- move to construct stronger, more resilient homes and structures to protect us from harm; and
- invest in cleaning up our environment to protect our health and viability as a nation.
To do this we must stand together in mutual respect honoring each other’s rights and sustaining each other in our individual and collective obligations. We must conduct social and political discourse with civility, with decorum and with respect for the rule of law. For that will foster the harmony necessary for the development and implementation of concrete national programs to realize our broader societal objectives.
Reflecting on the last few months I trust that we will learn from our good and not so good experiences; and that we will continue to build and improve on the progress we have made thus far. In doing so it will be imperative that we apply “best practices” in the governance of our recovery through an innovative national social-economic program. A program – grounded in effective fiscal, responsible business, balanced social, and sustainable environmental policies – all aimed at rebuilding our economic base and restoring Sint Maarten’s position as a premier tourist destination and regional commercial center. To achieve that our policies must support a number of national priorities. In that regard I wish to, among others, emphasize:
- that we must stand hand in hand to rebuild our airport and primary gateway to recovery;
- that we must stand hand in hand to secure the reinvestments needed for the reopening and upgrading of our hotel properties, large and small;
- that we must stand hand in hand to restore, renew and revitalize Philipsburg, our nation’s capital and commercial center; and
- that we must walk hand in hand with and in support of our brothers on the northern side to secure the overall recovery of our shared island.
To achieve this we will need everyone to join in to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure one day at a time. Today, tomorrow and each day thereafter we must, and I trust that we will, continue to take steps to secure the full recovery of our island. As we face this challenge we can do so with the knowledge and resolve that we have been down difficult paths before and we overcame. I, therefore, believe in the promise that: “we shall overcome” stronger together again. This by walking hand in hand at home and by constructive cooperation with Kingdom and international partners. And for that I am, as always, counting on my trust in the boundless strength and resilience of “We the People of Sint Maarten”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In closing, as the New Year 2018 begins, let us thank God for bringing us thus far and ask him for his continued guidance. And at the same time let us individually and collectively recommit to do our part to realize our common purpose and rebuild Sint Maarten. This is your duty, my duty, our shared obligation. In my role as your Governor I hereby reaffirm my pledge to continue to work with government and other stakeholders to serve the people of St. Maarten, so that we will overcome.
With that pledge, I hereby on behalf of Marie-Louise and myself, wish the people of our beloved island a year of health, happiness, and growth.
Thank you, God bless you, and May God bless Sint Maarten and protect its coast.