St. Maarten 10 years after 10-10-10: can we really speak of victories?

In commemorating the 10 year anniversary of St. Maarten achieving its ‘country’ status within the Dutch Kingdom, we owe it to our readers and followers to at least paint a HONEST picture of where we are as we approach 10-10-2020.

We understand the need of some including our PM to paint a rosy picture and speak of a “decade of victory” but that would neglect to see the real state of affairs our country is in 10 years after the fact.

We guess it all depends on how a person defines or interprets the meaning of “victory”.  For a country the definition should be quite simple:

Are the citizens/residents of the island better off that they were 10 years ago? Do they have an improved standard of living 10 years later?   

To help us analyze the so-called “victory”, we can do so by looking at this through 3 categories as per the below.

The Positives:

  • St. Maarten separated from the Netherlands Antilles and became our own ‘country’ within the Kingdom having a direct relationship with The Netherlands (no more Curacao based Federal Government to deal with).
  • St. Maarten continues to be an attractive destination for tourists despite our lack of cohesiveness or destination marketing plans.
  • The Netherlands have committed millions of dollars for the development of the island and provided liquidity support during the COVID pandemic, albeit it being a 0% loan.
  • The dump stopped burning continuedly for the past 2 years.
  • With the assistance of the Dutch, many corrupted politicians have been exposed, charged and convicted.
  • The new hospital project seems to be progressing hopefully resulting in an enhancement of the local health care system and adding to the island’s income as it also attracts medical visitors to the island from neighboring islands/ region and reduced the medical referrals abroad which means: more money stays within St. Maarten’s economy.

The Negatives:

  • Political instability (9 different governments in 10 years) resulting in a lack of decision making on crucial issues and no continuity for long term policy making.
  • St. Maarten used to be the one of the leaders and innovators in the Caribbean tourism market place. Currently, we are followers of our competitors’ initiatives.
  • No ethics as multiple politicians accused and convicted continue to serve in Government roles.
  • Stakeholder participation and input is at an all-time low. Tri-Partite Committees are disbanded, put on dormant or not actively engaged.
  • Self-inflicted disasters (e.g. 9 governments), Hurricanes Irma/Maria and now the COVID pandemic have brought the economy to a halt and there seems no plan to fix it (nor urgency to do so).
  • The public educational system has not seen any innovation lowering the quality of our education as the world prepares their youngsters for a 21-st century world.
  • Antiquated tax and labor system holding back economic progress and further investment from local sources and abroad.
  • No concern or plan to maintain and/or safeguard our natural environment and heritage.
  • Relationship with the French side government is at an all-time low.
  • Relationship with the Netherlands government is at an all-time low.
  • Government and publicly owned companies are bankrupt.
  • Lack of financial accountability and independent timely reporting of financial results of Government and publicly owned companies (e.g. Government’s Annual Accounts are 5 years late making expenditure scrutiny and accountability a futile exercise, reports and recommendations from St. Maarten’s General Audit Chamber are mostly ignored).
  • Lack of reliable and timely statistics that prevent any qualified individual in a leadership position to make sound financial and/or socially beneficial decisions.
  • Dysfunctional coalition government(s) result in a lack of a cohesive plan and lack of coordination between the various Ministries (e.g. each Ministry seems to operate as an island within Government).

The Unforeseen:

  • Hurricanes Irma/Maria
  • Covid-19 Pandemic

It is obvious that the unforeseen circumstances hastened the downward spiral in which the country finds itself now.  Calling our last 10 years a “victory” is either a clear sign of being in denial or at best a dishonest self-evaluation of the performance of the country.

Moving forward, we encourage the leaders (on both sides of the Atlantic) to put away their egos and rearview-mirror and sit down and negotiate the so-called “Caribbean Reform Entity” (CRE) in a similar fashion that both our sister islands Curacao and Aruba have done.

Curacao has reached an agreement with The Netherlands this week and has made a political commitment as they approve a so-called “Body for Reform and Development (BRD) instead of the CRE. Curacao’s Prime Minister Ruggenaath even stated:

“No takeover of legislative and administrative powers. The intention is that the entity will work for and with Curaçao, it is envisaged that frequent consultations will be held with the government of Curaçao. The Netherlands will co-invest in the island’s economy, including in good education and accessible care, says Rhuggenaath. “The Netherlands has explicitly committed itself to this.”” said Rhuggenaath”

Hence, why should St. Maarten not be able to do the same which is in the best interest of St. Maarten? Let’s make the next decade one that we turn things around for the better (on all fronts) so in 10 years time we may JOINTLY conclude: St. Maarten is a better place to live then in 2020.