PHILIPSBURG--A cross-section of well-dressed dignitaries gathered at the House of Parliament on Tuesday to witness the opening of the 2023-2024 Parliamentary Year.
The highlight of the event was the anticipated speech delivered by Governor Ajamu Baly, outlining the policies and plans of the government for the coming year. It was Baly’s first such speech since taking office as Governor.
Prior to delivering his speech, Baly inspected the guard of honour lined up in front of The House of Parliament on Wilhelminastraat. The Guard of Honour included the Marine Corps, Royal Marechaussee, Police Force, and the Voluntary Corps. Following his speech, dignitaries were treated to a military parade on Front Street. Pupils from several schools, some bearing flags, were on hand to witness the proceedings.
During his speech Baly said the state of the economy of Sint Maarten for 2023 has shown promising signs of recovery and growth. “The continuous and gradual increase in visitor arrivals, particularly in stay-over tourism, has contributed to the expansion of hotel occupancy, resulting in positive impacts on employment rates and government revenue. Furthermore, we see new developments in the hospitality industry indicating confidence in the economy and in the tourist industry.”
He said unemployment is on the decline, signifying progress in job creation and workforce participation, providing more opportunities for the local population.
The prices of fuel and electricity had an upward pressure on the general inflation rate. The Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten (CBCS) has projected that inflation will reach a level of 3.7% for 2023, following a decline to 2.2% in 2024. Over the medium-term inflationary pressures are expected to stabilize around 2.0%. This decrease in inflation, he said, indicates improved economic stability and purchasing power for consumers. However, it is essential to address the recent decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) after an initial upward trend, as well as to continue monitoring economic indicators to sustain growth in the long term.
“This decrease can be attributed to an increase in imports of goods and services from both the public and private sectors. Notably, Trust Fund-related imports have played a role in this trend, as the country aims to “catch-up” on construction delays, specifically in projects like the Princess Juliana International Airport expansion and the Sint Maarten General Hospital.”
He noted that this increase in the economic outlook is due to an increase in activity in the hotels and restaurants, transport, storage and communication, real estate, renting and business activity and the construction sectors. While hotel room inventory will remain comparable to 2022, a slightly higher occupancy rate is expected in 2023. In addition to this the short-term rental of alternative accommodation has also accelerated in 2023. As it pertains to cruise tourism, CBCS expects that this will approach its pre-pandemic level.
He stressed that although an improvement in the financial situation of the country is seen, the two main objectives of government in this regard are to better control finances, by improving financial management and to modernize its tax legislation laws and systems in order to generate more revenue, taking into consideration that the CFT is expecting to see surpluses starting from 2024.
“The latter is also driven by the fact that everyone wants an improvement in their standard of living, from those of us that have to work for our money to those whose money works for them,” said Baly.
“Improvements such as, smooth well-kept roads to drive on, environmentally clean and safe neighbourhoods for our children to grow up in, quality education, a sustainable and stable electricity grid and a healthy economy in order for us to make a good living, do business etc. etc.”
He said government is held accountable as the one responsible to ensure this improvement. “Government tackles these wants and needs of the people via the funds coming into its coffers. This poses a challenge to government because tax compliance, which makes up for the brunt of government’s income, is low and has been low for some time now. What’s also debatable, is the reason for the low tax compliance, nevertheless to improve compliance and address the wants and needs of the people, government has set in motion the plans to transform our current tax administration, which also includes the acquiring of portals and a new tax system.”
Besides the transformation of the tax administration, government is also looking at adjusting the current fiscal laws and is also in the process of making the necessary fiscal adjustments to register at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, in order to collaborate on domestic and international policies that will stimulate the economic progress for country St. Maarten, noted Baly.
He said also that government’s efforts in stimulating economic progress by diversifying the economy beyond traditional tourism, focusing on renewable energy, information technology, and agriculture, present valuable opportunities for future economic growth and sustainability.
Government, he added, plans to continue to strategically leverage the orange, green and blue economy. Government, through the Tourist Bureau, is actively seeking ways to diversify the tourist industry, “first, via supporting the “orange economy” by organising and supporting various cultural events that provide opportunities for local artists to showcase their musical talents and visual arts talent. Second, government is also focused on promoting sport tourism by supporting a variety of events that attract tourists from neighbouring Caribbean countries. This not only boosts our tourism receipts, but also increases awareness about our destination as a sports tourism hub. Last, culinary tourism is another area of growth and opportunity for us, with several activities throughout the year that highlight our diverse culinary offerings.”
He said also that government’s efforts have been multifaceted to boost tourism in the region including a comprehensive marketing strategy, which involves a number of co-op campaigns with airlines and online travel agents.
“Additionally, government has engaged a number of public relation services in the various regions to market the destination. Collaborating with content creators, government has focused on producing captivating an informative material to highlight the island’s unique offerings.”
Government also plans to start and finalise the upgrading and reconstruction of the Philipsburg Market Place, Bus Terminal and Beautification of the Philipsburg area.
“Government via the Tourism Bureau will continue to focus on airlift development and develop a multi-year airlift development plan in collaboration with the Airport. The focus will be on existing airlines to increase frequency, as well as new airlines from various regions such as the USA, Canada and Europe.”
During his lengthy speech, Baly also touched on government’s plans for a range of other areas (see related stories for some of those plans).