PHILIPSBURG–Reviving the economy will be a top priority for government, but this would be impossible to achieve in an atmosphere riddled with rising crime and general insecurity, said Prime Minister William Marlin in his New Year’s address issued on Monday.
Public safety and security will also rank “very high” on Government’s agenda. “Crime prevention is without doubt everybody’s business. Police cannot do it alone. Community policing will continue to be our goal and the expansion of the Police Force with more men and women in blue will be pursued as much as possible,” Marlin said.
“But every one of us has an individual responsibility and a civic duty to contribute to keeping our neighbourhoods safe by being our brother’s keeper and by reporting any suspicious persons or activities to the Police,” he added, reiterating while stiffer punishment will be sought for the more hideous violent crimes, the emphasis will be on prevention and rehabilitation.
Government intends to look at this new year “with a renewed sense of purpose and a commitment to work even harder together to bring about the important changes that will reposition St. Maarten on the path to sustainable economic development.” Tax reform is one path as is “effective public-private partnership (PPP).”
“To give more teeth to such partnership, government would look into establishing a permanent PPP Committee that would meet regularly and come up with feasible initiatives that would be adequately funded and properly executed,” said Marlin.
The past year has not been a very good year for tourism all across the region. St. Maarten has to compete for the same tourist dollar in a market with more competition and decreasing arrival numbers.
“And although the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten indicated that tourism had slowed quite some in the third quarter of 2016, the island still recorded a pretty healthy 5.5 per cent increase in stopover arrivals year-on-year up to August 2016,” said Marlin.
“Other economic indicators do not seem to support the gloom and doom picture painted by some criticism,” he said. St. Maarten still maintained its Baa2 credit rating with stable outlook while the Public Debt to GDP ratio remains one of the lowest in the region at 36.5 per cent (Curaçao ’s is at 44.3 per cent and Aruba at 80.1 per cent).
The Inflation rate on St. Maarten is a rather modest 0.3 per cent although it is much higher than in Curaçao (-0.4 per cent) and Aruba (-0.7 per cent). Unemployment is “still too high” at 8.9 per cent compared to Aruba’s at 7.6 per cent. However, it is lower than Curaçao’s which has an unemployment rate of 11.7 per cent.
Government has managed to pay two-thirds of our public debt, while tightening its financial belt, he said.
These are the figures that show that “St. Maarten’s economy is not in the doldrums as some people would like us to believe. This, of course, does not mean all is well with our one-pillar economy,” said Marlin.
However, he said, “The last weeks of 2016 showed clearly that we still have a long way to go, with the frequent electricity outages, the recent massive Internet outage, garbage collection issues and the list goes on. All of this while government has been experiencing a financial crunch brought about by dwindling tax receipts and a noticeable decrease in major construction projects. However, this should be seen as the proverbial darkest moment before the break of dawn.”
The National Alliance (NA)/United St. Maarten Party/Democratic Party Government took office on December 21 and intends “to go about the people’s business in an open and transparent manner and will continue to stress sound financial management based on a balanced budget.”
The first step to this, according to Marlin, was the adopted of the 2017 Budget prior to the end of 2016. “This budget has now been approved paving the way for us to start the New Year on a good financial footing,” he said.
Government has “five strategic goals” moving forward: nation-building and good governance, sound financial management, public safety, social and environmental sustainability and an improved quality of life for all.
In the education field over the next four years Government will focus on increasing access to quality education from the pre-school to the tertiary levels so that each child can aspire to attaining the highest educational goals, be it in the academic or vocational fields, to the extent that their intellect and hard work would permit them to reach.
“A vibrant and growing economy can only be sustainable if it is based on an educated, creative and adaptable local workforce. Therefore, tertiary and professional education will be the cornerstone of our efforts to build an economy that will benefit our people,” said Marlin.
To develop its human resource, Government plans to stimulate life-long learning, ensure training and retraining of staff at all levels. “We will stimulate innovation and the use of technology, not only in the classroom, but also in the day-to-day business of government,” Marlin said.
The youth “no longer want to remain the so-called leaders of tomorrow forever; they want a crack at the leadership roles now,” he said, pointing out that some of them won seats in Parliament and one has become a minister.
“Our youth must be an integral part of the solution to our problems, including those special ones they face such as high drop-out rates and repetition, unacceptably high unemployment rates and the increasing culture of hopelessness that drives some of them to crime,” he said.
Marlin said 2016 could be called the Year of Transition. “Transition to a new St. Maarten … where your political affiliation would not deprive you from making your contribution to an improved quality of life for our island; a new St. Maarten where your religious or ethnic background would not disqualify you from participating fully in the St. Maarten Dream; a new St. Maarten we all call home, not because we were born here by chance, but because we have made a commitment to invest all we have and want to be in its continued progress,” he said.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/62648-william-reviving-economy-top-priority-for-government