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Governor: Economic growth has not resolved social issues

page1b097PHILIPSBURG--While the country has seen and continues to expect economic growth, this has "not resulted in greater fiscal space nor resolved all the prevailing socio-economic issues," Governor Eugene Holiday said in his traditional opening of the fifth Parliamentary Year on Tuesday.

To tackle that lack of results, it is "essential" for unemployment, poverty, increasing healthcare cost and increasing shortage in affordable housing to "continue to receive the necessary attention," he said.

The policy challenges through existing plans and/or development and implementation of new policy plans will come "at a cost." That cost will "have to be managed efficiently and effectively" in view of the "limited fiscal space" in which government will be operating.

His speech focused on "policy challenges and opportunities" awaiting the new government coalition to take office on October 10, rather than government's plans for the new political year.

According to Holiday, initial indications show that an increase in tourism can be seen already in the recent figures. Projections of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Ministry of Tourism and Economic Affairs show an economic growth of about two per cent this year. The country has "a healthy debt-to-GDP ratio of approximately 30 per cent."

New legislation has been prepared for further handling by Parliament this year, including a new law creating a small claims court, a change of the law to implement a tourist driver's licence and a new code for penal procedures.

Government has taken steps to introduce an intellectual property bureau. The ordinance in which the tasks and responsibilities of the intellectual property bureau are laid down has been presented to Parliament.

Other important policy challenges ahead include the development of the competition and consumer protection authority and an agency responsible for licensing and control over all gaming operations in the country, and a review of the tariff systems.

The current government "hopes to contribute to the debate on future policy plans of the new government aimed at continuing to create opportunities for all residents" based on "a sound national, social and economic foundation," through its outlined overview of legislation before Parliament and through the identified policy challenges and opportunities, said Holiday.

He told Members of Parliament, the Council of Ministers, members of the court and High Councils of State, and other invitees gathered in Parliament House for the opening that his reason for looking at the challenges had to do with the new political year starting "at a time of transition," as the composition of Parliament will change with the swearing-in of new Members of Parliament in just over a month.

Governance of the country is in "a transition phase, with the current ministers functioning as caretakers. In this caretaker capacity I have requested the current ministers to continue to manage the interest of the people by addressing the day-to-day operations of the country," he said.

Care for elderly

Holiday said it was "critical to note" that while the population was still comparatively young, people were living longer and as a result ageing steadily. "These issues form critical policy challenges." Addressing these issues is "important to ensure a balanced and sustainable development of our country."

Government, among other things, has drafted legislation to address these concerns. These include a draft ordinance to change legislation concerning civil contracts and the proposed price indexation legislation that will lead to an increase in social benefits. Both are expected to be presented to Parliament this year.

Government has adopted "a phased approach" to curb potential poverty among the current and future generations of elderly persons. In the first phase, government has decided to increase pension benefits and the pension age from 60 to 62. Legislation to that effect already has been presented to Parliament for approval. The second phase concerns researching the feasibility and design of a compulsory pension plan.

"Maintaining current social security provisions, health promotion activities and the quality of health care in light of annual budget cuts are other issues the new government and Parliament will face," the governor said.

Education

Developing and offering education that gives people the right skills and knowledge to become productive participants in our society, is "ultimately the most effective way to combat unemployment," the governor said.

The promotion of equal access to quality education, recreation, social and psychical development has therefore been a key objective of the current government. The preparation of legislation on study financing and on higher education has been "high on government's agenda" and these are in their final stage.

Steps to establish international and regional relations to promote education, sports, cultural and youth affairs look promising. In particular, contacts have been made in the Caribbean Community Caricom with meetings held in St. Kitts and Anguilla and existing plans to meet with Barbados officials.

"Government believes that fostering these ties and working in a close relationship with our French neighbours and the Netherlands can play a major role in the realisation of the potential of St. Maarten's education system, Holiday said.

Safety

While the safety and security challenges are complex, opportunities can be found in the form of the Justice Academy for capacity building as well as in the form of international and cross-border cooperation with the French authorities to better combat and disrupt criminal operations, Holiday said.

Maintaining good foreign relations has been "a priority" for the past governments and "should undoubtedly remain a key factor in future governance." Strong bonds in the region and internationally can help St. Maarten "to build capacity and grow economically."

Financial backlog

Government has worked over the past year to reduce the backlog in financial reporting and to manage information properly by instituting monthly reporting per ministry. These steps provide the basis and tools to manage income better, control spending and give account of government's activities.

Progress has been made in the preparation of the 2012 financial statement and the draft budget of 2015 for presentation to Parliament. The 2011 financial statement and the ordinance to amend the 2014 budget already have been presented to Parliament for consideration.

Concerns about tax collection and non-compliance have had the attention of the current government and "are expected to continue to be important policy challenges for the coming period." The development and introduction of tax reform measures "should therefore remain high on the policy agenda," Holiday said.

He added that in doing so, it was essential to make use of the opportunity to strengthen the function of taxation as a source of revenue and at the same time implement tax reforms that would favour the poor on the island.

It has been the policy of the current government to strengthen the public administration through institutional and capacity building. An "important aspect" with regard to public administration is the ongoing debate about integrity and the promotion of integrity as a means to ensure good governance.

"Considering the work carried out under the government's integrity programme during the past years and given the number of integrity inquiries conducted it will be up to the new government, supported by Parliament, to address this critical concern," Holiday said.

MP Theo Heyliger’s property burglarised

GUANA BAY--"I'm just happy my mother was not at home, but of course she's very afraid now," said Member of Parliament Theo Heyliger about a break-in at his mother's home located on his Guana Bay property on Tuesday afternoon.

His mother Aggie Wathey, who lives on the same property with him, was not at home at the time. The burglar(s) ransacked the house and made off with several items, including his mother's jewellery and a computer. The break-in was reported to the police.

Heyliger said his children and mother were very uneasy about staying in the house.

"I have always said in and out of Parliament that I face the same issues as everyone in the community, from concerns about safety of my family and the community as a whole," Heyliger said.

"Every resident deserves to be safe in their home. Our police officers do their best every day. We as a community need to take care of each other and realise many untrue statements about 'haves' and 'have nots' can quickly turn people into targets," he said.

Heyliger called on the Prosecutor's Office "to only make legitimate claims and not sensational ones to stir up emotions for whatsoever ulterior goal."

"Claims" made by prosecutors in recent court cases, "especially about money and ungrounded statement on blogs, social media and even the traditional press are now putting my family in jeopardy," Heyliger said. "The safety of my children and mother and the rest of my immediate family are paramount for me. I will not take it lightly if they are in any way harmed or further affected."

Designated FCCA Show, hotels fill up

POINTE BLANCHE--Designated conference hotels for the 21st Annual Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) Cruise Conference & Trade Show are filling up for the premier industry event in October, which is expected to attract more than 1000 cruise industry partners.

The St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies (SHGC) said that Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa sold out in July, "a first in FCCA recent history." Princess Heights was said to be the second official hotel to sell out days later, followed by Oyster Bay Beach Resort. Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort was also said to be filling up quickly and Divi Little Bay Beach Resort has also been added as a conference hotel.

The SHGC added that it expects the economic spin-off to be "tremendous for the participating hotels as they come out of the slowest month of the season, which is September.

"The conference delegates are looking forward to coming to the island and experiencing what the destination has to offer visitors and they are also ready to do business at the 21st Annual FCCA Cruise Conference & Trade Show."

Armed robbers can’t get cash, rob customer instead

COLE BAY--Union Caribe Money Transfer on Welfare Road was the target of armed robbers. On Monday, September 8, around 9:45am, several police patrols were sent to the location to investigate an ongoing armed robbery.

The report came in immediately after an employee of the establishment activated the panic alarm. According to the information received, two masked men, one with a baseball bat and the other with a gun stormed into the establishment with the intention to commit a robbery. A shot was said to have been fired inside of the building

The suspects, however, did not succeed in robbing the establishment, although a customer inside was robbed of personal belongings. The robbers then fled in a small white vehicle driven by a third suspect, and made off in the direction of the Kruythoff roundabout.

No one was injured during this incident. This case is under investigation by the Special Robbery Unit. Anyone with any information about the incident is asked to contact Philipsburg Police Station, or to call the anonymous tip line on number 9300.

Motion passed to restrict outgoing ministers’ actions

page7d096PHILIPSBURG--A motion calling on Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams to inform individual ministers of the Wescot-Williams III Cabinet "to not make any long-term policy, financial and/or decisions of such a nature as granting lands in long lease, bus and taxi licences, concessions, hiring and placement of personnel in crucial functions" was adopted by a majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) in the closing meeting of the 2013-2014 parliamentary year on Monday.

The motion was presented by MP Roy Marlin (Democratic Party (DP)) and also signed by six other MPs.

The motion further called on the ministers to refrain from making any decision on the waste-to-energy concession or any other decision "that may obstruct or encumber the incoming government from functioning adequately during the next governing term."

The motion also requested the prime minister to inform the individual ministers who are shareholder's representatives of government-owned companies "to instruct management and boards of these companies to refrain from entering into long-term agreements and sign contracts that may negatively affect or bind these companies for a long term."

The motion was presented by MP Roy Marlin after he requested an addition to an agenda of the plenary session of Parliament. That agenda point was "the results of the elections on August 29." The content of the motion was built around the forming of the new coalition of National Alliance (NA)/United St. Maarten (US) Party/DP and the appointment of MP William Marlin (NA) as "formateur" of the new government.

MP William Marlin said the motion was very necessary to stop ministers from giving out land at random and to halt government-owned companies from signing "rush deals" and "contracts in the millions."

MP Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce (United People's party (UP)) voted against the motion, saying that it did not make sense as the government has to continue working.

MP Johan Leonard (UP) said the motion casts doubt on all the ministers, including the ones who are part of the new coalition. He said all the ministers have integrity.

Independent MP Frans Richardson voted for the motion, saying that the new government should not be tied down by any decision by incumbent government that would have "serious consequences" on governing the country in the coming term.

Voting for the motion were MPs Roy Marlin, Hyacinth Richardson, William Marlin, Louie Laveist and George Pantophlet of NA, and independent MPs Frans Richardson, Laville and Patrick Illidge.

Voting against the motions were MPs Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce, Leonard and President of Parliament Gracita Arrindell (UP).

MP Theo Heyliger was signed in for the meeting, but was not present to vote on the motion.

Absent with notice from Monday's meeting were MPs Lloyd Richardson (independent), Leroy de Weever (DP) and Jules James (UP).

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