Governor Eugene Holiday
~ More sacrifices required going forward ~
PHILIPSBURG–While St. Maarten had recorded some positives and negatives over the past decade since attaining its status as country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Hurricane Irma and the current coronavirus COVID-19 crisis have “wiped out,” the country’s gains.
While the country’s economy grew by 0.7 per cent on average and unemployment declined from 11.5 per cent to 8.7 per cent from 2011 to 2016; this year St. Maarten faces an economic fallout of some 25 per cent and an increase in unemployment to 16.2 per cent, says Governor Eugene Holiday.
He told the population in a national address commemorating the 10th anniversary of St. Maarten becoming a country within the Dutch Kingdom that more sacrifices will be required moving forward.
“This as many among us lose jobs and face cuts in working hours and/or pay. Already cash-strapped, the public finances have been hard hit, resulting in the need to raise funding urgently,” Holiday related during his address.
According to Holiday, throughout the past decade St. Maarten has, in good and bad times, been able to count on a broad cross-section of its people, to educate children, defend safety and protect freedoms, care for the sick and elderly, and to provide products and services for the economy.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Irma to the country’s infrastructure in September 2017 wiped out socio-economic gains in terms of economic growth and employment.
“This situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus outbreak since the beginning of this year. The virus has taken too many lives, affected the health of much more and brought travel to a virtual standstill. It is causing businesses to retrench or close and threatening the livelihoods of many,” he said in the address, which was broadcast on Saturday and Monday.
“At this 10-year mark of our country status, we find ourselves in tough times with significant financial and socio-economic challenges. As we face these challenges it is important that we guard against emphasising the times that we have fallen and forgetting the times that we have risen.
“In the aftermath of Irma, many people in our community got up, brushed themselves off and started working to rebuild their homes, reopen their businesses, help their neighbours and support our youngsters and our elderly,” the Governor said.
“And since the coronavirus outbreak there have been many courageous men and women out there on the frontline risking their own health to save lives and to keep us safe. Courageous health care professionals, law enforcement officers, firefighters, supermarket employees, other frontline employees, and volunteers, who day in and day out rise to the task to protect our well-being and our country.”
He said the Irma and COVID-19 crises have called for major responses from government and the population.
“And all indications are that more efforts and sacrifices will be required going forward. We have worked with and received valued support from our Kingdom partners in response to Hurricane Irma and the coronavirus. Amidst it all, it is regrettable that relations between St. Maarten and the Netherlands have been strained.
“Caught up in the urgency to address our challenges, we sometimes fail to appreciate and recognise the dedicated efforts and contributions of our people, fine professionals and volunteers. Contributions which are necessary for progress and to maintain St. Maarten as a good place to live.”
Earlier in his address, Holiday said that based on his experiences of the past two decades, the road to country status and the past 10 years were not smooth.
Holiday dedicated the 10th anniversary to “the people of St. Maarten” with a plaque which reads: “This plaque remembers the first celebration of country status in the heart of Philipsburg, commemorates the tenth anniversary of country status and is dedicated to the People of Sint Maarten for their perpetual progress.”
Looking ahead to the coming decade, Holiday said it is known that major challenges are on the horizon, challenges which few countries can handle on their own. Facing the effects of Irma and the coronavirus, St. Maarten is already confronted with the realities of these challenges.
He said it is important to mobilise, inspire and nourish the St. Maarten spirit. This calls for stable and effective governance and for the establishment of a National Agenda for the 2020s anchored on broad societal support.
The country’s first order of business must be the coming together of government, business, labour, and civil society, without delay, in an emergency meeting to develop a collective approach to take the required steps to address the current social, economic, and financial challenges associated with the coronavirus crisis.
“I trust that that will be the first pivotal moment in the second decade of country status,” Holiday said. “This emergency meeting should serve as the lead up to a National Summit shortly thereafter to develop a comprehensive ‘National Agenda for the 2020s’ to meet the needs of our people.
“A national agenda aimed at bringing our human resources home, providing affordable housing, strengthening our institutions, enhancing education, realising sustainable health care, reducing poverty, protecting our environment, creating resilient infrastructure, fostering sound public finances and promoting sustainable economic development for the coming decade.”
Guided by the national agenda, St. Maarten must work with each other and with the Kingdom, partners in French St. Maarten and the Caribbean to build the country.
“As a small country, this will offer the opportunity to pool our limited resources, tap into our extended network of partners, and mobilise the resources which are necessary to develop new solutions to these major challenges.
“The realisation of country status seemed to be an insurmountable challenge and we achieved it. Today’s observance of the 10th anniversary of country status is thus a reminder that as a people we have the resilience, persistence, and capacity to develop and follow an effective strategy. A reminder that we must use these characteristics to overcome our challenges and build our country for current and future generations,” Holiday noted.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/holiday-unemployment-up-16-2-25-economic-fallout