NOW party manifesto: Paving the way for a prosperous St. Maarten

NOW party manifesto: Paving the  way for a prosperous St. Maarten

Nation Opportunity Wealth (NOW) party, headed by Christophe Emmanuel (centre).

PHILIPSBURG--The Nation Opportunity Wealth (NOW) party emerges with a vision deeply rooted in the three pillars that support the essence of daily life on the island. The name signifies a commitment to work for the “Nation”, present “Opportunities” for its people, and generate “Wealth” that stems from seizing these opportunities. This philosophy calls for courage, advocacy, and a collective effort to harness and exploit the resources that belong to the people of St. Maarten.

Building wealth in St Maarten, according to NOW, requires a relentless pursuit of a society that offers opportunities to all. It is not just a moral imperative but also a pathway to economic prosperity, urging a departure from practices that extract wealth from the island. Instead, NOW advocates initiatives that intentionally build and circulate wealth in and for the community.

The NOW Party positions itself as a forward-thinking force, distinct from existing parties that, in its view, have contributed to the country’s challenges. Its focus lies on innovative, collaborative, bold and common-sense solutions. As the NOW Party unfolds its vision for 2024 and beyond, the manifesto invites citizens to consider the future they desire and to join in the collaborative effort to bring about the change that St. Maarten urgently needs. The NOW Party asserts that the change begins now.

Economic development

Since achieving country status on 10-10-10, St. Maarten's economic platform remains an untapped reservoir of potential. The NOW Party envisions unlocking this potential through a knowledge-based approach that prioritises local ownership. The party asserts that economic self-reliance is the linchpin of St. Maarten’s development and advocates for a clear, strategic vision extending over a 20-year horizon.

Government intervention is seen as a catalyst for innovation, creating a favourable environment for economic growth. The NOW Party emphasises the importance of public-private partnerships, recognizing the private sector's pivotal role in finding viable solutions. This collaborative approach is crucial for laying out a road-map towards economic self-reliance.

The NOW Party believes that entrepreneurship is the engine that will propel St. Maarten towards prosperity. By fostering an entrepreneurial culture and embracing the opportunities presented by the global "new economy" driven by technology, artificial intelligence and data, the party aims to regenerate the economy.

The NOW Party recognises the strategic importance of the U.S. Pre-Clearance programme for St. Maarten's economic growth. Beyond the convenience for travellers, the enhanced safety and security measures contribute to an improved overall experience. Anticipated benefits include increased tourism, reduced congestion at Immigration, a competitive edge in the region, and the potential for St. Maarten to serve as a hub.

Agriculture, fisheries, animal husbandry

Recognising the key role of agriculture, fisheries and animal husbandry, the NOW Party pledges to establish the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Husbandry in the St. Maarten government. This move, spurred by the lessons of the recent pandemic, aims to prioritise and develop these critical sectors.

With the involvement of stakeholders and collaboration with regional and Dutch professionals, the ministry will focus on initiatives such as securing agricultural land, awareness campaigns, and partnerships for innovative farming methods. Local participation in cannabis farming and the creation of a local commercial fishing fleet underscore the commitment to sustainable locally-driven development.

Youth, sports, education

NOW places the youth at the forefront, acknowledging their pivotal role as architects of the islands future. The Youth Plan focuses on empowerment, education, employment and engagement, envisioning an active youth shaping their destinies. NOW’s Youth Initiatives involve stringent measures against bullying, wellness programmes, and upgraded recreational facilities.

Policies for youth development, annual symposiums, and ambassadorship programmes are pivotal. In tandem, NOW prioritises stimulating youth employment in agriculture, technology, and tourism, enhancing violence intervention strategies, and fortifying year-round internship opportunities.

Regarding sports, NOW emphasises training programmes led by qualified coaches and plans to fund and equip the National Sports Institute. Immediate goals include upgrading existing facilities, constructing a drag-strip and cricket stadium, and fostering sports-related hospitality services.

A minimum 3% allocation from the annual budget aims to promote local sports and sports tourism. NOW’s Sports Plan goes beyond medals, aiming for a sustainable sports system that nurtures local talent, fuels economic prosperity, and positions St. Maarten as a premier sports tourism destination. The focus is on strategic investments and athlete development, creating a lasting legacy of sporting excellence.

The NOW Party strategically prioritises the transformative potential of education for St. Maarten’s future. By highlighting the intellect and creativity of its people as primary economic resources, the party underscores the imperative of investing in education for

long-term prosperity. Aligned with economic strategy, the NOW Party advocates for an education system that seamlessly connects with the island’s economic strategy.

A streamlined education system is a key initiative, encompassing early childhood to tertiary levels, addressing both social and academic development for a holistic educational approach. NOW Education Initiatives include expanding and diversifying programmes at USM, incorporating cultural elements into curricula, developing a National Learning Management System using information and communication technology (ICT) and comprehensive reviews of curricula and transitions.

With a commitment to inclusivity, the NOW Party envisions an education system that imparts knowledge while instilling pride and identity in students.

Culture and heritage

Culture and heritage form the bedrock of St. Maarten’s identity, embodying values, traditions, and diversity. NOW’s investment in their development aims to strengthen unity, instil belonging, and showcase St. Maarten’s unique heritage globally. This commitment is more than a promise; it is a dedication to safeguarding ancestral legacies for future generations.

NOW Culture and Heritage Initiatives include designating the courthouse as a national museum, amending legislation for monument protection, and establishing a sustainable strategy for managing St. Maarten’s Carnival and Festival Village, ensuring their vibrant continuation and financial viability.

Law enforcement

The NOW Party is steadfast in its commitment to fortifying law enforcement in St Maarten, recognising the crucial role of a robust justice system in ensuring the island’s well-being and safety.

The party prioritises sufficient funding for the police force, aiming to improve efficiency and meet safety requirements. NOW acknowledges the need to establish a formal relationship between Voluntary Korps St. Maarten (VKS) and the police force Korps Politie St. Maarten (KPSM) for structured law enforcement assistance.

NOW advocates restructuring of the Joint Court of Justice to align with the autonomy of the three countries in the kingdom of the Netherlands. Court cost should be regulated proportionately, respecting St. Maarten’s jurisdiction, NOW concluded. “We will boost local prosecutor and judge training programmes, emphasising proficiency in English and a deep connection to St. Maarten’s culture and values.” Appointment of a St. Maarten prosecutor general who reports directly to the local minister of justice is part of the vision.

The NOW party further plans to expedite the new prison’s completion to enhance conditions and ensure humane treatment; build and operate a rehabilitation-focused boot camp for juvenile delinquents; improve ankle bracelet usage, reducing waiting times for non-violent offenders and emphasising rehabilitation over imprisonment; and create a national sex offenders registry for heightened public safety.

The NOW Party envisions a humane and rehabilitative justice system, addressing funding, training, infrastructure and collaboration. The party aims to create a system reflecting St. Maarten’s values, promoting security, fairness, and rehabilitation for all in its jurisdiction.

Fostering social equality

The NOW Party advocates for the rights of seniors, emphasising the societal responsibility to ensure their comfortable and dignified golden years. In response to the challenges faced by many seniors on St. Maarten, the party outlines a multifaceted approach to address their needs comprehensively: tax-free pensions to alleviate financial burdens on seniors and provide comprehensive assistance to seniors in need of housing, utilities, food, public transportation, and medical coverage.

NOW further emphasises the urgent need for accessible preventative care for common senior health issues. The party plans to use AVBZ medical insurance funds to make homes safer for seniors and the disabled, promoting independence and reducing reliance on nursing homes.

Addressing the current wage disparities, where the minimum wage is unfairly treated as the maximum, the NOW Party acknowledges the challenges faced by families, especially children. The soaring cost of living makes survival impossible for minimum-wage earners or AOV pension recipients. To uplift families from poverty, urgent government intervention is essential.

The proposed solution involves a gradual three-year increase in the minimum hourly wage to NAf. 10.80 (US $6), with a 5% annual rise, including a cost-of-living adjustment. Additionally, the introduction of a "Lovable Subsidy Program" aims to support households earning less than NAf. 3,500, covering essential needs such as housing, food, education, transportation, and utilities.

Animal welfare

In 2010, proposed animal welfare legislation faced initial rejection in the St. Maarten Parliament, highlighting the need for legal frameworks. Stray and sick animals, especially post-Hurricane Irma, demand urgent attention. Acknowledging this, the NOW Party commits to introducing comprehensive laws, including microchipping, sterilisation, and annual fees for un-chipped or non-neutered animals. Ensuring proper care, the party vows to build and fund a dedicated animal shelter, addressing long-standing concerns and reflecting a commitment to improved treatment of animals on the island.

Shift to renewable energy

NOW’s strategic plan for infrastructure, resilience, climate change and utilities comprehensively addresses vital aspects for St. Maarten's progress. Recognising infrastructure as the backbone of a community, NOW emphasises spatial planning, waste management and resilient measures. To combat climate change, the party advocates proactive steps such as rising water level management, coastal defence and protecting natural resources.

Understanding the importance of accessible utilities, NOW proposes a regulatory body to oversee services. Additionally, the party envisions a shift to renewable energy sources like solar, wind, and geothermal. The plan underscores the creation of alternative energy through waste-to-energy projects, fostering sustainability and boosting the island's resilience. NOW’s forward-looking approach aims to secure a prosperous and eco-friendly future for St. Maarten.

Tax reform

The NOW Party is spearheading a comprehensive tax reform initiative for St. Maarten. Central to this agenda is the equitable distribution of the tax burden, ensuring fairness for both individuals and businesses. The proposed reforms are designed to reward hard

work, innovation, and risk-taking, aligning with St. Maarten’s vision for a dynamic and thriving economy.

Key features of the NOW tax reform include: elimination of the 5% turnover tax to stimulate local commerce and production; a 9.5% import duty on non-commerce merchandise to encourage local businesses; introduction of a ½% transaction tax to enhance revenue streams; a phased (5-year) reduction of the corporate profit tax rate to 12.5%; an increase in the accommodation tax to 10%, with an 8% room tax and a 2% environmental tax. The latter will be dedicated to conservation activities by the Nature Foundation.

Games of chance reforms include increased fees, stricter licensing regulations and relocation of casinos to hotel properties. NOW introduces SIN tax: Excise tax on distributors of sugary beverages, liquor, tobacco and potential cannabis products.

The party will see to rigorous quality control protocols for all merchandise and explore incentives for economic development in crucial sectors like farming, recycling and affordable housing.

The NOW tax reform, rooted in practicality, seeks to streamline existing structures, redirect resources, and introduce necessary changes for a robust and fair tax system.

Wealth creation

In its manifesto, the NOW Party underscores the intrinsic link between wealth creation, poverty eradication and fostering opportunities for St. Maarten’s households. The party envisions a future where every household enjoys a liveable income, either directly or through government subsidy programmes. Emphasising the importance of a solid foundation for generational wealth, the NOW Party commits to creating an environment that enables St. Maarten’s people to build and pass on prosperity to future generations.

The housing subsidy programme is introduced as a means of creating wealth through home-ownership. A public-private platform involving local home and apartment owners aims to provide safe and secure living environments for families, particularly children. Additionally, government-initiated investments in infrastructure are proposed to stimulate employment, address neglected areas and make essential improvements.

The NOW Party’s vision for wealth creation encompasses education, home-ownership and financial planning, laying the groundwork for a prosperous and sustainable future for St. Maarten.

Roadmap to independence

Independence, defined as the exercise of self-government and sovereignty, is a natural aspiration. For St. Maarten, achieving independence involves meticulous planning, from education to financial stability. The current status, whether dependent or somewhere in between, is a crucial consideration.

The path to independence demands building capacity, attaining financial autonomy, strengthening the judicial and educational systems, fostering a resilient economy and enhancing social and healthcare services. A multi-year trajectory shaped by a consultative referendum will guide the inclusive process toward St. Maarten’s ultimate goal of self-governance.

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