PHILIPSBURG–University of St. Martin (USM) President Dr. Antonio Carmona Báez on Tuesday called on all political parties to consider the importance of higher education for democracy.
Carmona outlined the role USM can play under a new government. He said now that St. Maarten is facing elections in early 2020, he hopes to meet with all the political leaders to discuss USM’s needs and concerns, the most important of which is the passing of the ordinance on higher education. This we need urgently in order to secure sustainability and accreditation for our institution.
“If the caretaker government and future governments continue to ignore this call, their negligence will keep the people and economy of St. Martin stagnant,” he stated in a press release.
“But USM also has a role to play in democracy. We would welcome any invitation to hold democratic debates and dialogue among groups of civil society. It is important for the people to be informed about optional policies and intentions before they vote. And this should take place on safe neutral ground.”
USM is also considering offering a training course to civil servants and politicians who contemplate running for parliament and ministerial positions. Such a course would include the process of law-making and the review of concepts such as good governance, transparency, accountability and responsiveness to citizens.
USM has gotten back on its feet in service to the country over the last year and a half, following the Hurricane Irma disaster. It continues to be the main producer of educators in St. Maarten, and the current administration hopes to expand its academic programmes to prepare homegrown professionals in other areas of social and economic importance, he said.
Furthermore, he pointed out that USM will be essential for any recovery effort, especially when it comes to research.
“It is uncomfortable to see highly-paid consultants and scientists who have no connection to the people come to St. Maarten and leave with the knowledge they have accumulated. We need to see that knowledge deposited into our institutions openly, and that is why we would encourage future governments and the World Bank to invest in our University,” he said.
According to Carmona, the faculty and staff of USM who teach English as a Second Language, and History and Culture of St. Martin to underemployed indigents have noticed that the country has a serious problem with adult illiteracy.
“Besides offering degree programmes, our highly qualified faculty can determine how best to solve this problem,” he added.
USM has signed memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with other institutions and non-governmental organisations throughout the last year to design courses and research that will benefit the community. Carmona would like to look into the questions of poverty and development, waste management, sustainable agriculture, disaster preparedness, and resilient architecture and planning, the release said.
“Democracy is not a place or a system, rather it is a movement of inclusivity and participation. Democracy is best served when those in power value higher education and research. USM is essential for democracy, development and good governance,” Carmona noted.