SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – Gracita R Arrindell, Leader of the Progressive People’s Alliance (PPA) stated in a press release on Thursday that: There’s no question in any one’s mind that our immediate social and economic outlook is bleak. That said, our longer-term financial economic future remains bright. To emerge successful after this latest pandemic we must hit the ‘reset button’. We must begin a new order of doing business by first accepting that we cannot go back to ‘ how things were’ before COVID-19”.I call that the “Pre-Corona-virus World” or PCW for short. What we must do is create what I call “SXM 2.0”.
Arrindell said: “we must get a firm grip on getting our people back to work and get businesses open. We must attract direct foreign investments. Our country’s budget has hovered around the 450 million guilders mark for the past ten years. Successive governments have reached out to The Hague for more money but we must realize they want accountability and transparency and they are right. We must stop pretending it’s an affront to our so-called sovereignty. The opposite is true. Not providing hard information and accountability is an insult to our integrity and or partners are right to demand it. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’.
“We must collectively decide and allow the government to take the lead responsibly and provide full transparency. We must cooperate with business and civil society to reset governance and realize that past and destructive economic policies cannot be re- applied. Someone very wisely once said the definition of madness is to make the same mistakes over and over again and expect a different outcome. It is time to break this negative cycle”.
Gracita continues: “both the cruise-as well as the airline industries are having to make hard decisions for their respective businesses. This will create paradigm shifts for island nations like St. Maarten. We depend heavily on the tourism sector. Many believed we are doomed to stay the present course. We do not share this belief and remain hopeful and excited about our future but also realize change must begin at home. It must begin with us”.
“Our island must be pro-active and decide if we want to continue to pursue the 50 dollars tourism market or the 500 dollars and up market. We championed the establishment of five-star hotels for decades but surrendered this market to neighboring islands because we forgot that what we offer must be commensurate with what we promise. We forgot we must deliver on what we promise. Over-promising and under-delivering is doomed to failure.
“We spoke out against the 450 unit ‘Pearl of China’ project in Bell- air, and pleaded for fewer high-rise hotel projects. Our infrastructure, including our fire department capacity, no matter how capable and professional our local team, is not equipped to handle ‘skyscraper’ calamities and mar our skyline. We are not New York. We are not Dubai and shouldn’t try to be. Both concepts do not fit the vision of quality versus quantity of St. Maarten, said Arrindell”. “We forgot who we are and what we want to be and most importantly what we need to do to reach our goal. We forgot sometimes we need to make short-term sacrifices to reach long-term prosperity”.
Arrindell continues and stated that: “In 2016, we invited to St. Maarten, Professor Gunter Pauli creator of the Blue – economy concept. Gunter’s presentation in Bell- air community center outlined the many possibilities for our island to create new jobs, significantly reduce unemployment, improve our environment and increase prosperity. It was well received. The level of prosperity he envisioned is achievable by looking inward and use more efficiently what is available to us. The Sea, the Land, our People. Sadly, nothing happened following this historic visit”.
“Conversely, Barbados Prime Minister the Honorable Mia Mottley, established a ministry of ‘Maritime Affairs & Blue Economy’ upon her appointment. Today this Caribbean nation continues to look inward and create new jobs as the mass tourism outlook lights dim”.
“The Spanish island of ‘El Hierro’ is another good example that choosing a sustainable path for the future is a successful one to take. In 2017, I personally visited this beautiful island for one week to attend, along with many others from around the globe, the Blue economy seminar series. This experience was an eye-opener. Both government and the private sector had in professor Pauli’s words a ‘ refreshing approach’ in their vision that led to El Hierro’s success as a sustainable, yet diversified tourist destination.
Finally, states Arrindell: “we must recognize that St Maarten remains valuable to surrounding high-end islands such as Anguilla and St. Barth. In order to stay relevant to these markets in terms of airlift and shopping, we must reset the social- economic button to SXM 2.0. We should establish a Research and Development Institution that will function as a public/ private sector funded think-tank”.
“This entity will provide much needed and updated data-points which the government can use to establish policy decisions for a new quality- based economic model. Our future cannot sustain over 500 taxi drivers, a mono- culture of same (luxury) goods, not allow for a dilapidated city center, substandard infrastructure and high dependency of imported agricultural items. We cannot thrive as a nation if we do not reduce and control crime, illiteracy, garbage strewn about on our streets. It creates an insalubrious impression of insecurity for both our citizens and our visitors. We must start at the street level and take pride in our paradise. If we see a discarded can we must pick it up. We must bend over and pick up a paper cup we see at our feet. We must do this and more and also provide affordable housing for our citizens”.
Arrindell concludes: the real game changer starts now. Our neighbor St Barth started life poorer than us and in the past 30 years has become a beacon of what high-end tourism is. We can do this but to reach this goal we must begin by dreaming together and then we must follow up by acting together. We must realize that change begins with us, at home, on our streets and most importantly together as one.”
Group photo, Gracita Arrindell (first on the right).