October 10, 2023, commemorates St. Maarten obtaining the status of “country” within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Regrettably, today there’s not a great feeling of jubilation among the general population. One main reason; most citizens have not been living a significant upward change in the quality of their lives since the decision-making powers were transferred to govern our own public affairs.
Yet a milestone it was.
The first Parliament was a blueprint for future parliamentarians to elaborate on and strengthen its relationship between citizens and elected representatives. The first four years was a marathon of public meetings to deliberate, approve, reject or amend many draft laws carried over from the former Parliament of the Netherlands Antilles. The process which is based on additional Article IV of St. Maarten’s constitution included approval of the civic and penal codes. Time was of the essence to comply with these deadlines.
This highest body of governance was never destined to be stagnant, complacent nor become a podium for grandstanding. Parliament’s crest “Coram Populo” means “In the presence of the people” was designed with the creativity and input of local high school students and unanimously approved by Parliament August 12, 2012.
It’s time to act according to the letter and the spirit of Parliament’s crest, open, timely and transparent deliberations of elected members of Parliament.
Regrettably we failed to appoint or retain staff who were or are able and capable to fill the various functions in a timely fashion based on merits instead of based on preference. Reportedly, to date many civil servants are leaving, while we struggle to appoint new and capable recruits.
These issues may have contributed a great deal to the slow pace and mediocrity of serving the people of our country. Can we continue pointing our fingers to Curaçao or to the Netherlands for our current state of affairs?
Too many of our citizens have lost hope and faith in our capability to do the right things in order to increase the quality of life and level of prosperity of our citizens. Moving forward, while there are pockets of progress, the new Parliament must, for example:
- be more empathic with the plight of our people through passing laws that reflect the improvement of the quality of life including better pension, improved and affordable healthcare
- clear backlogs of laws already in the pipeline for years including the still-pending draft criminal procedure code.
- update and reinforce building codes
- introduce stiff penalties for basket-of-goods violations.
- support and expand the powers of the ombudsman to include government-owned companies.
Entrusted by my colleagues to be at the helm of introducing a new order of things was not a “walk in the park”.
Providing leadership and structure to the first Parliament of St. Maarten was a priority. My first meeting as President of Parliament was held in the old government building. I endured and delivered confidently because I trusted in God to handle matters beyond my efforts.
October 10, 2023, should give pause to reflect on our true purpose for those seeking office for the next four years. It’s a chance to restore hope and confidence of our citizens that our young democracy deserves a chance to thrive and shall not fail future generations to come. It’s an opportunity to renew our vows honestly and truthfully to serve with dignity, accountability, openly in the presence of the people.