Empower community councils a winning formula for a thriving community

Dear Editor,

It goes without saying that structured community councils have a positive impact on the overall well-being of their constituents when they have more say in creating better living conditions for their respective districts as active sounding boards in their interactions with government.

Community councils must have the space, tools and secured funds to execute their yearly policies and programs tailored to their needs. Not all districts are the same.

These “grassroots” non-profit organizations arguably are the best civic structure that knows (or who are supposed to know) the problems and solutions affecting their neighborhoods. Funds allocated on government’s budget by means of a monthly stipend (taxpayers’ monies) can increase the level of a transparent operation and accountability to both their constituents as well as government.

It’s no secret that successive governments have been generally unsuccessful thus far in securing much needed funds for capital investments, rendering it unable to execute many critical projects and programs for our people.

An article published in the AMIGOE di Curaçao newspaper of November 11, 2023, refers to the IMF ARTICLE IV of the consultation report 2022.

Herein outlined among others is our inability as “countries” (St. Maarten and Curaçao) to have structural capital investment.

In spite of this state of affairs, one cannot lose sight of the fact that many community councils are active and would like to be engaged structurally and improve their districts. To be clear, community centers are government-subsidized and often used as emergency centers. Additionally those that have ongoing projects and activities are subsidized to a certain extent. Community councils are not subsidized.

Community councils are localized, knowledge-based organizations with vested interest and insights to act as sounding boards for structural dialogue with Parliament and government.

An empowered participation through legislation means:

* Timely inclusion of community councils as stakeholders in the decision-making process regarding projects affecting their communities.

* Increased government accountability and visibility in districts year-round.

* Reduce ad-hoc or ‘opaque’ decisions that hampers proper development.

Some issues in urgent need of a structured joint approach include:

* Proper disposal of septic water in neighborhoods, more paved streets, sidewalks and uninterrupted street lights, functional bus-stops.

* Identify, resolve long-standing unfinished residential or commercial structures.

* Control spread of stand-alone lottery booths, exposed side-of-the-road garages, grocery stores.

* Secure district “green-spots” and kids’ playgrounds through zoning.

* Cleaning of the so-called “ring-road” on Walter A. Nisbeth Rd, Philipsburg

Active citizens’ participation (‘Inspraak’ in the Dutch language) is a well known concept applied in a democratic society governed by the rule of law – collaborative democracy promoted by a new forward thinking and pro-active Parliament. This is the way forward for our growing and diverse community. It’s a “WIN-WIN” strategy for our districts, while its application increases our overall standing as a clean and safe and healthy island. Together we make St. Maarten beautiful again, when community councils have their say in a structural way.

Gracita Arrindell

Former President of Parliament

The Daily Herald

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