Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs
PHILIPSBURG--“A year of hope and continued progress” was the description used by Prime Minister (PM) Silveria Jacobs to describe 2022.
In her New Year’s message Jacobs said 2021 has been a year of many lessons, opportunities for growth, despair and hope, challenges and progress, and this on the heels of a year where the world stood still for the virus known as SARS Cov2 or COVID-19.
“In 2021 we progressed with much more understanding of what we were dealing with and some experience on the more effective health care protocols to safeguard our people. As a result, we have adjusted to our new normal – one in which we wash our hands more often, sanitise more frequently, wear masks to protect ourselves and others, and vaccinate to build herd immunity and minimize the possibility of variants.”
She said the world’s latest variant, Omicron, though apparently milder in its presentation, has proven to be more contagious and easily spread. As a result, St. Maarten has adjusted its protocols, and she prays the country is able to maintain a low hospitalisation count, while promoting the vaccines and boosters to be able ensure the safety of residents and that the economy and the livelihood of families remains sustainable and resilient.
“2021 has brought awareness to the reality of life, it has highlighted the importance of family time, of safeguarding our mental health, and the need to protect our most vulnerable groups, especially women and children. It has helped us to reaffirm our faith in God and in our own capacity to make positive changes in our lives and the lives of others,” she said.
Despite the serious challenges faced, including lack of capacity and financing, government has made significant advancements over the past 12 months thanks to the commitment and hard work of civil servants, collaboration with key stakeholders such as St. Maarten Development fund (SMDF), National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB), VNGi, high councils, and access to funding/technical assistance via the European Union, RESEMBID and other funding agents.
“We have seen progress in areas of the reconstruction projects approved by government under the NRPB, an executing agency which was implemented after Hurricane Irma to build back a stronger St. Maarten. Many projects were carried out on behalf of and in collaboration with government during 2021 with continuation in 2022 and beyond.”
She said government has embarked on its digitalisation of services to enhance the efficiency of delivery and access to selected public services for citizens and businesses, as well as the resiliency of government systems. This project began this year with the Ministry of General Affairs and the civil registry department has been able to take seven of its services online. The public can now request services via an online request form thereby minimising lines at the Government Building.
“This Ministry was and remains instrumental in the implementation of the country package of reforms, working on legislation and policies, while supporting all other ministries. Focus has been on ICT [information and communication technology – Ed.], personnel and organisation, legal affairs and legislation, facilities management and disaster risk management.
“We have also focused on building relationships with key partners and seeking to collaborate as much as possible within the region and the kingdom with support from the cabinet of the plenipotentiary minister. We will continue to seek solutions to enhance training and hiring of personnel to build capacity, and enhance service to the general public.
“In 2021, the Ministry of Finance continued with the St. Maarten Stimulus and Relief Plan (SSRP) whereby businesses and unemployed persons financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic were assisted with funds needed to survive.
“An initiative from this Ministry that must be commended is the Learn-SMART programme in collaboration with the St. Maarten Development Fund whereby the public has been offered the opportunity to enhance their skills or acquire new skills via free Coursera courses which continue in 2022.
“The Ministry has enabled online payments for a few services, including the 2022 Motor Vehicle Tax, and plans to establish QR codes to abolish yearly purchase of licence plates. The Ministry continues to aim for the creation of data-driven policies.
“This is the first time in the history of St. Maarten, that a Minister of Justice has travelled to the Netherlands to form working relations with our European counterpart to strengthen our justice system.
“After 11 years as a country, the Ministry of Justice has successfully completed and established a Function Book for the personnel of the departments within the Ministry, all within a year. The Ministry has also implemented its parking policy for Philipsburg city centre and continues to bring awareness about domestic and gender-based violence including support for victims of a crime.”
She said the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport continues to provide financial support for students to obtain tertiary education here in St. Maarten and abroad, taking into account the current and future occupational needs of St. Maarten.
With the assistance of the St. Maarten Trust Fund, three schools have been repaired, and 16 remaining are scheduled to start in 2022. Sports facilities are all up and running, and are expected to get further repairs as ERP1 Project of the Trust fund is extended in 2022.
The Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI has also tackled the implementation of several policies to enhance transparency of its services to the public. The Ministry has been working on the development of policies for tenders as well as a land issuance policy which has been lacking for many years. In a bid to best serve the people of St. Maarten, these policies will be implemented as soon as possible.
The VROMI Ministry will be embarking on emergency road repairs as of early next week, beginning with Front Street. Long-term solutions will be implemented in 2022, including installing a drainage system to prevent deformation of the bricks in the future.
Also in 2022, via the Trust Fund, plans for long-term solid waste management will start to take shape and works will start to put remaining parts of the electrical grid underground. Some 64 social homes will be repaired under St. Maarten Housing and Development Foundation (SMHDF) and funding secured to add to the housing market.
The Minister of Public Health, Labor and Social Development continues to work with Kingdom Partners via public health consultations to ensure best protocols are being implemented.
The Ministry and in particular the Collective Prevention Services together with the Vaccination Management Team have been able to continually provide COVID-19 tests free of charge for persons with symptoms of the virus and have been able to score a vaccination rate of 43 per cent for St. Maarten. Vaccinations, including booster shots, will continue to be promoted, and the health protocols will continue to be highly enforced.
Under labour, the Ministry continues to collaborate with the tripartite, promotes local hiring for new projects, job fairs and training programmes to further assist persons to find employment.
Under the Trust Fund, 11 hurricane shelters stand ready to provide safe refuge in times of emergency, with management plans prepared by the Ministry. SMDF in collaboration with the Dutch Red Cross has also completed recreational community spaces in several districts which promote health as well as community involvement in the management of the spaces.
The Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication has been very iconic in aiding the restart of the cruise industry in the region, St. Maarten being the first country to not only restart cruise tourism, but also embark on home porting via its prestigious Port St. Maarten with MSC.
“This has truly given our economy the needed boost to get back to our pre-[Hurricane] Irma numbers. As such, we continue to delve into ways in which we are able to diversify our economy via micro-financing loans under the ESP programme of the Trust Fund. One hundred small business owners are able to grow, thrive and succeed, all while receiving valuable hands-on support from the ESP team, promoting local businesses, entrepreneurship, and the exploration of our agriculture market.
“The Ministry has also laid the framework for the development of the St. Maarten Tourist Authority, and will continue to work towards a sustainable approach within the business entry structure by facilitating online business applications.”
Cruise and air tourism are bouncing back, with numbers looking positive in the high season and opportunities for greater diversification of its tourism product. St. Maarten was awarded the Sea-trade “We are Back” award in 2021, representing its commitment to the industry and a realisation of the path forward that St. Maarten will be taking as a leading destination once again.
The airport terminal reconstruction project has been underway since October 2021. The Ministry continues to support endeavours to grow St. Maarten’s orange economy, giving artists an opportunity to earn a living doing what they are truly passionate about and by promoting St. Maarten-made products and services.
“Hope and progress remain at the forefront of our attitude and work ethic as we close 2021 and welcome 2022. We do so in gratitude for the blessings bestowed on St. Maarten, for while the world was hit by the reality of COVID-19, we must acknowledge the opportunities afforded to us to regroup, fast track and make SXM more resilient while creating more opportunities for its citizens to survive and thrive,” Jacobs said.
“We are grateful for opportunities for continued education and lifelong learning, commitment to improve our services by going digital in a number of areas, bringing more checks and balances to our day-to-day operation while focusing on efficiency and effectiveness.
“As government of St. Maarten, we have been at the table with our Kingdom partners seeking for fair and equitable treatment of St. Maarten and the other countries in the Kingdom. We will continue to do so in 2022, even as we define more and more for ourselves who we are, where we want to be and what we are prepared to do in the short, medium and long term as we prepare for the future we must design.
“Our focus is on building a nation of strong, self-sufficient people by improving the quality of life, improving opportunities for progress for each citizen by creating opportunity, nurturing pride, promoting culture and community involvement. It will take all of us working together, and I challenge each of us to do so in 2022 and beyond.”
On behalf of the Council of Ministers, Jacobs wished everyone “a blessed and joyous New Year.”