SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – As we pensively anticipate the anniversary of Hurricane Irma, after witnessing Dorian’s destruction of the Bahamas, we reflect on how little meaningful progress has been made not one but a full two years later.
That’s right the below table does look familiar. It was published a year ago and has only gone from bad to worse in terms of progress over the last year.
Legend: ● good ● slightly improved ● neutral ● slightly worsened ● bad
We still have hopes that year 3 will prove to be different.
Priorities “Vision for Sint Maarten 2025”
1. Provide Leadership – take the hard decisions, inform the people and stay the right course. Allow private sector representatives and NGOs to assume leadership in the sectors where they have proven expertise, motivation and investments, whether economic, social or environmental.
The private sector has been used as a stakeholder check box—something that has to be done with little thought to action.
The community still continues to wait, relief and decisions are slow in coming, lack of capacity is cited as a principal reason, while more than 40% of the public budget is spent on the civil service payroll equating to 11% of GDP. Productivity at an all-time low.
Support for Private Sector recovery non-existent. (regardless of size, many businesses no longer exist as a result)
2. Implement Environmental Protection Laws and Enforcement–Protecting our most valuable economic asset is seen as extremely important including an urgent solution to the Dump and Waste Management.
Dump is still a crisis, lagoon and Oyster Pond still full of ship wrecks, no material changes to waste management, no stoppage of accepting waste from other territories. No discussion of passing stronger environmental protection laws—our only natural Asset.
Litter is a constant plague in every neighborhood and on every beach. No tangible improvements to septic.
3. Institute Immediate Tax Relief and Fiscal Policy Reform – policy and productivity; help employers keep employees through the long dry summer ahead. Allow the private sector input in the development of a new tax-system that will be fair, improve the business climate, productivity, wealth creation and support local employment.
Fiscal reform has only been given lip service to date. A new building for the Inspectorate seems to have more traction then improving efficiency. The Inspectorate does not function, backed – up with administrative entries. TOT continues harmful effect on the economy, all resulting in increasing deficits for the country and a poor investment climate. Elimination nor reduction in TOT is not even a consideration on the proposed “tax reform” Making recovery all the more difficult.
4. Fix the Airport NOW as quickly as possible– everything about it.
Airport timeline to completion unknown. Insurance partially settled but still lacking funding for rebuilding. Strong potential for major damage to our core product. As of today, not even the RFP’s have been issued for tendering. Simple tasks such as implementing WIFI for the already discomforted travelers still to be implemented.
5. Create Hire / Fire Labor Legislation with portable benefits – creating flexibility will lead to upward mobility away from the minimum wage quagmire we are currently in.
No changes within labor law. No meaningful dialogue with the social partners has taken place. Undue stress and legal expenses are being incurred by both employees and employers as they try to safeguard their livelihoods. Civil code changes passed against the advice of the high Councils of State and Tripartite committee.
6. Demand Government Accountability – act as facilitator—not doer nor hinderer; Manage expenses and accurately report expenditure and income by producing actual annual accounts, in line with the comptabiliteits verordening; actively eliminate Corruption
No Financial Statements since 2013. Annual reports of the Audit Chamber are ignored. Incomplete Government administrative records. Parliamentarians accused of Fraud and taking bribes.
Budgets late and not adhered to, with no basis in reality of actual accounts. No proper reckoning of liabilities, Accounts payable significantly back logged, staff lists and pension plans not administered properly. SZV in dire financial straits. Decisions not taken to the detriment of the country. Reports and advices of high councils of state continuously ignored.
7. Provide a framework policy for facilitating Credit extension –implementation by the Central Bank, with Loan Guarantees where necessary for local Banks in order to generate private sector liquidity assistance. Do so in line with point 1.
Qredits provided over 100 loans to SME’s. Many companies have already taken up high interest loans, either on island or abroad.
The discussions of implementing support for the private sector via loans or even grants is a day late and a dollar short as the saying goes. This was requested and needed in October 2017, many entities that still exist have already found funding sources, those that couldn’t most likely do not exist any longer. Implementation now without due diligence will end up punishing those entrepreneurs who obtained financing earlier in order to stay afloat by subsidizing their competition.
8. Halt NHI Implementation –reform our healthcare system – yes; create sustainability – yes; but do not force an antiquated idea without enough quality data into a downward spiraling economy.
Health Care remains a constant threat to the economy and labor base. While some points within the NHI legislation may be needed and justified, coupling it with the far-reaching expensive premise of the whole package means the Private Sector cannot support it. Minister summarily dismissed, further setting back meaningful reform. The Actuarial report on financial soundness and proper statistical basis has not been provided by either government or SZV. So, no agreement to the conclusions contained therein can be made.
9. Sustainable Destination Marketing in a Structured Legitimate Public Private Collaboration such as a Promotional Board—single purpose entity.
French – Dutch Side MOU signed. Talks ongoing between government (Tourist Board) and stakeholders reinvigorated; but little meaningful action has come about. STB funded inadequately, proposals to the World Bank Trust fund for jump starting the economy and support our Tourism based services economy are not supported by the Steering Committee.
10. Improve Quality and Quantity of Law Enforcement
The Judicial system is slow, crime is increasing, youth unemployment is high, illegal immigration from other troubled states is increasing, even small steps to improve prevention are not taken. Solving the situation with the prison is not in sight as yet. Reports and advices are largely ignored.
The SHTA will not contend that no progress has been made, of course things could have been worse, and much effort has been spent; for example at least 14 roofs are on their way to being repaired via trust fund money, and perhaps another 100 maybe identified before the year ends.
However, the situation on the ground could also be better. In many ways, Irma presented an opportunity for us to come together and assess what it is we want and really need as a community. How do we want to improve our lives. Unfortunately, a real sense of community is still lacking.
Political bickering and finger-pointing is still the order of the day. Private sector employers and self-employed—the main taxpayers– have been completely sidelined with no support. Democratic participation is at an all-time low.
It is unfortunate that now, a full 2 years past that fateful day when it all blew to bits, this is going to be our point of departure.
By all means let’s reflect on where we are and the many things that have been achieved. Let’s give credit where credit is due, but let’s also be honest about what still needs to get done in order to really improve our present situation.
SHTA’s Vision for Sint Maarten 2025 and its 10 key priorities listed above were presented on its Annual General Meeting on May 28th, 2018 to its members, strategic partners, NGO’s as well as representatives of Sint Maarten and Dutch government and yet little to nothing has been done to facilitate these needs.
The obstacles to rebuild the airport are growing not shrinking. It is distressing that the top 10 Urgent Priorities posed from Private sector’s largest employer representative are largely stalled; the SHTA wonders if the employee base recognizes what this level of stagnation will mean to their own well-being.
The full vision text is to be found at www.SHTA.com/vision, as well as a summarizing movie.