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TPI has launched TPI Prep for Teachers

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - TPI has launched TPI Prep for Teachers to equip participants with the training and tools to transition to online learning models, necessitated by the ongoing Covid19 pandemic concerns for health and safety in classroom settings.

“We are training teachers in necessary skills such as classroom management, improving parental involvement, and multi-tasking skills, but fully adapted for online facilitation via Zoom,” said Dr. Natasha J. Gittens, President & CEO at TPI Firm.  Dr. Gittens added that all the TPI courses are facilitated by herself, Lead Facilitator Catherine Burns, and by certified instructors.  The courses are fully accredited, and the teachers will receive a certificate for each course completed.

All the courses are delivered in an online format and are designed to help the participants to use the Zoom online platform to establish best online teaching practices.  TPI will also provide the teachers with additional proprietary resources and manuals that will seamlessly allow them to take the lessons learned from theory to application. 

Effective Teamwork for Teachers, Peer to Peer Teacher Coaching, and Keep Students on Task are some of the additional featured courses.  TPI Prep for Teachers will also prioritize the feedback received in real time to maximize the benefit to the participants.  TPI Firm is currently training teachers from several local schools, including the Charlotte Brooks Academy School of the Arts (CBA) and Excellence Learning Academy.  The teacher’s reviews of the TPI training have been positive overall.

From Terry-Ann Williams, CBA Teacher of English Language, and Student Care Coordinator: “Providing numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth are vital in promoting effectiveness in any given organization. It has been a tremendous experience thus far with TPI FIRM whereby educators are provided with an engaging platform to identify, discuss and hopefully utilize best practices in the process of pedagogy and communication.”  

Nicole Rogers, the School Operations Manager for Excellence Learning Academy stated: “After completing the 4 business training sessions I took part in, I can truly say I've gotten a new perspective on how to better handle my day to day situations. Dr. Gittens was very interactive in each session, there was never a bored moment." Excellence Learning Academy teacher Laniva Frederick added: "As a growing teacher, I understand there is still a lot for me to learn. We are never done learning even when teaching students. These training sessions gave me insight on how to look at certain situations differently within my classroom. The calming techniques session was most beneficial to me."

TPI Firm was founded in 2016 by Dr. Gittens with a humanitarian goal of providing individuals with the opportunities to advance their education and careers at an affordable price. 

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APS and Government to host webinar on impact of pension reform September 29

SINT MAARTEN (CAY HILL) - On September 29th, Algemeen Pensioenfonds Sint Maarten (APS) and the Government will facilitate its third webinar to inform APS participants about the pension reform, which became effective July 1, 2020.

During a ZOOM video meeting, the most important changes will be addressed and subsequently attendees are welcome to ask any questions they may have. All persons interested can register for the webinar via https://www.apsxm.org/webinars/ until September 25th. Registration is required to attend the session.

Changes to the pension scheme that became effective in July 2020 include increasing the retirement age from 62 to 65, calculating pensions based on average pay instead of final pay, pension accrual from age 18 instead of 25, and conditions for indexation. APS and Government jointly prepared a video presentation about the pension reform in which these changes are explained. Major adjustments are also clarified on the APS website at https://www.apsxm.org/pensionreform2020/.

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Mentally ill woman leads police on high-speed chase and then pulls gun on officers

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - The Sint Maarten Police Force (KPSM) patrols were kept busy yesterday, Monday, September 14th, 2020 with two separate incidents involving individuals suffering from various mental health issues.

The lady involved in the first incident, with initials D.M., is now facing serious charges after leading officers on a short high-speed chase, while they attempted to conduct a traffic control at approximately 11:30 am Monday.

The driver, who was being cited for reckless driving refused to stop but instead lead officers on a chase to her residence in the Cole Bay area where she then pulled a firearm on the officers.

The daughter of the driver quickly appeared from inside of the house to explain to the officers that her mom was not well and was suffering from a mental illness. Officers on the scene were able to quickly deescalate the situation by disarming the driver of her weapon before arresting her.

Fortunately, no one was harmed during this incident. After being treated by the personnel of Mental Health Foundation, D.M. is being held at the police station pending further investigation into the firearm.

Second mental illness incident in one day. Mental health cases on the increase

In a separate incident on the same day at around 12:30 pm the police dispatch Center directed the patrol to Kudu drive to assist the staff of the Mental Health Foundation with a patient with initials B.R.

According to the health staff, B.R. was non-compliant when asked to take his medications and became very aggressive.

When the police, who arrived on the scene, tried to approach him he threatened to inflict physical harm to them. During the shuffle with the patient, one of the officers sustained a small laceration to his face which was tended to.

After a fierce resistance, the officers managed to subdue him and place him under arrest. Once in police custody, he was treated by the mental health staff and he will be remanded pending further investigation. 

Since December 10th, 2018, the Sint Maarten Police Force and the Mental Health Foundation has established a protocol on the best plan of action for us to be able to assist the Foundation.

The number of crises such as these continues to rise and the need for some type of structure to deal with these situations is definitely a necessity. This protocol that was written was to safeguard the safety of that person and to make sure that these persons get the proper treatment and care he or she needs, the police statement said. 

We will continue to assist the best we can with the resources provided as we also follow the COVID-19 protocols set in place to protect the officers as well as the community. (KPSM)

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Exporting vehicles: New safety protocols set in place by the KPSM Traffic Department

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - Following the rapid increase in the number of infected persons due to the COVID-19 virus in Sint Maarten, the new safety protocol have been adapted by the Traffic Department in an effort to make sure we all remain Covid-19 free.

Effective immediately, the Traffic Department will be working by appointment only. They can be reached by e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and by telephone number 542 22 22, with extensions 241/ 239.

Services handled by the Traffic Department include but are not limited to: the export of motor vehicles, hit and run (driving-on after a collision), inspection of vehicles at events and in traffic accidents, for interviewing witnesses and suspects as well as going to the site in the case of ore serious road accidents.

Steps for the export of motor vehicles:

1.Persons must send an e-mail with the following documents attached to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.:

          Bill of Sale or proof of ownership

          Inspection card (old/expired) of intended vehicle

          Proof of insurance of intended vehicle (if insured)

          Copy of identification card of the seller of the vehicle

          Copy of identification card of the purchaser of the vehicle

          A letter stating that said vehicle will be exported or that the vehicle will be registered in Saint Martin.

2.The applicant shall receive a reply from the Traffic Department within 3 working days by email, with a scheduled appointment for the control of the motor vehicle.

3.This appointment schedule always takes place on Wednesday mornings at the Simpson Bay Police Station, excluding Public holidays.

4.On the day of the appointment, you will report to Simpson Bay police station, with the motor vehicle to be exported, for the inspection and the following documents:

A letter stating that the vehicle will be exported or that the vehicle will be registered in Saint Martin.

Two stamps worth Naf. 5,-

Once everything is checked and found to be in good order, you will be given the stamped documents on the same day as the inspection.

Please note when coming to your scheduled appointment it is mandatory to have on a mask or you will not be attended to.

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Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance Develops Pandemic Response Management Letter for Protected Areas in the Dutch Caribbean

SINT MAARTEN/BONAIRE - The Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) has just released a Pandemic Response Management Letter which will serve as a blueprint for the Dutch Caribbean Park Management Organizations to recognize, respond to and protect their staff and visitors to protected areas against current and potential pandemic outbreaks.  The Management Letter outlines suggested protocols for social distancing, sanitation and other ways to respond to emergency situations related to health emergencies. 

2020 has been an interesting year, with the world facing unprecedented challenges between the affects of climate change and the global pandemic caused by the Novel Corona Virus and the COVID-19 disease it causes. These issues have brought to light the need for a rigorous emergency response plan which Park Management Organizations can use in order to safeguard their staff and visitors which may visit the protected areas they manage.  With this in mind DCNA has  just released its Pandemic Response Management Letter to serve as a framework for each Park Management Organization to design their own, tailored emergency response plan. 

COVID-19 has been unique in how widespread and devastating the infection has been. The uncertainty surrounding this virus has led to the need for social distancing and minimization of travel.  This drop in tourism has been difficult, especially for the Dutch Caribbean.  Interactions between the public and staff of Park Management Organizations varies between the six  Dutch Caribbean islands, however, with the implementation of safety protocols and procedures, risks can be minimized. 

The Pandemic Response Management Letter will provide each island with the tools needed to properly recognize and respond in emergency situations.  Each outbreak will have its own unique set of conditions, so the guidelines provided will need to be tailored appropriately.  The key to an effective response is for a timely acknowledgment of the problem and to react as swiftly and efficiently as possible. 

The objective of creating an emergency response plan is to ensure that Park Management Organizations on all six Dutch Caribbean islands are comfortable recognizing issues and reacting appropriately, especially under pressure. With pandemics, time is often the most important factor with an immediate response potentially saving lives and limiting the spread of a contagion. The blueprints of a pandemic response can also be useful in a variety of other emergency situations so having clear, well thought out protocols can be an important asset in both current and future emergency response.  

Exchanging knowledge and experiences between the nature parks of the Dutch Caribbean is very valuable and one of the ways DCNA is assisting to strengthen their activities. Together as a network Park Management Organizations are stronger in the common goal of safeguarding nature in the Dutch Caribbean. Lessons learned by the parks have been incorporated within Pandemic Response Management. 

It is recommended that each Park Management Organization take these recommendations into consideration and use them to draft a plan more specific to their situation. Pandemic preparedness is not a quick process as it will require careful planning between all stakeholders and will involve community buy in.  Therefore, it is also important to promote community involvement to optimize local knowledge, expertise, resources and networks. 

To stay up to date on this and various other activities related to nature conservation in the Dutch Caribbean please follow along on the websites and social media accounts for your local national park authorities as well as DCNA. When in doubt, please don’t hesitate to contact your local park authority for the latest updates.  

For more information, please find the full report here: https://www.dcnanature.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/DCNA-PandemicResponse.pdf

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Caribbean Wellness Day 2020 Statement

SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN - This year, the people of the Caribbean Region will celebrate 12 years since the 2007 landmark summit, ‘Declaration of Port of Spain: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases’ under a new theme, ‘Power Through Collective Action’ with the sub theme - “Stronger Together 2020” .

This year the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is pleased to align the Caribbean Wellness Day (CWD) sub theme with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) mental health awareness campaign. Worldwide, mental disorders are now recognised as the 5th major non-communicable disease and a major public health threat to economic development in the 21st century.

According to the World Health Organization one in four persons globally will be affected by a mental disorder or neurological disorder in their lifetime and 450 million are affected by these disorders, such as, depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia and substance (e.g. alcohol, nicotine) dependency.

1 In the Caribbean, mental health disorders are a leading cause of disability and a major contributor to of the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Caribbean region. In Jamaica the burden of mental illness is predicted to cause US$2.76 billion in lost economic output from 2015-2030.

2 The current COVID-19 pandemic is also affecting different people in different ways, and is having a major impact on persons’ mental health and well-being including those persons who have existing mental illnesses.

3 Persons with mental disorders often face stigma and discrimination, limitation of human rights, abuse, neglect and inadequate access to community-based treatment, care and support services. Addressing stigma and discrimination are important strategies in programmes for mental health disorders. Investing in interventions designed to improve health can help reduce the burden of these illnesses.

There are cost-effective interventions that Caribbean countries can implement to prevent and control mental illnesses. Scaled up treatment for mental health disorders are likely to increase healthy life years, thus avoiding significant economic losses and social costs.

A recent study in Jamaica reported that by scaling up treatment for mental health disorders over 15 years, for every $1 Jamaican dollar spent there is a $4.2 Jamaican dollar return on investment.

4 On Saturday 12th September 2020, countries across the Region will celebrate Caribbean Wellness Day. The annual event is geared at increasing awareness and promoting activities to address non-communicable diseases including mental ill health.

We encourage everyone to engage in healthy lifestyles like being physical active, engaging in healthy eating; if you smoke, please quit, reduce consumption of alcohol to the recommended safe quantities, get annual health checks, improve your personal relationships with family and friends and take care of your mental health.

During the pandemic be calm, be safe, and seek help if unable to cope. As a Caribbean Region let us recommit to the 2007 ‘Declaration of Port of Spain: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases’ and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3.4 ‘to reduce, by 2030, premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by one third, through prevention and treatment and the promotion of mental health and well-being’.

5 We must work together in order to prevent and control mental disorders and other NCDs. No one person, organisation or government can do this alone. All members of society need to play their role.

A ‘whole of society approach’ is essential for success. CARPHA will continue to work closely with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Institutions of the Community, Member States and its public health partners to create the needed alliances between governments, academia, civil society and others, to help to shape regional and country-level policy and programmes that address the issues of mental health disorders and to promote mental wellbeing.

There is power through collective action and each and every one of us can play a significant role in this response.

For more information visit CARPHA’s website and search • CARPHA Mental Health information • Caribbean Wellness Day • Stronger Together Campaign

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STATIA IMPLEMENTS CURFEW TO HALT THE SPREAD OF COVID-19

SINT EUSTATIUS (ORANJESTAD) - The Public Entity of St. Eustatius will implement additional measures to further prevent the spread of COVID-19 on the island. All residents are required to remain indoors between sunset (6.30 PM) and sunrise (06.00 AM). During this time only employees of vital services will get an exemption to be on the streets. Social gatherings of any number of persons are not allowed anymore.

Essential businesses such as the supermarkets, the pharmacy, the hospital, the airport, the harbor, GTI, construction sites etc., are allowed to be open between 07.00 am and 06.00 pm. Supermarkets may only allow 10 persons each time and only 1 person per household can enter the supermarket.

Restaurants can only be open for delivery between 07.00 am and 06.00 pm. Take-out is not possible anymore. Within these hours, also convenient stores, bakeries, and butchers can be open.

Exempted from curfew are the police, fire brigade, medical staff, security staff, members of the government crisis team, airport staff, and employees of STUCO and EUTEL in case of a breakdown in their services.

The additional measures were discussed and agreed upon within the Island Support Team (Eilandelijk Bijstands Team, EBT).

Social distancing of 1.5 meter should be strictly adhered to, and the Public Entity strongly advises everyone to wear a facemask at all times. As a large employer, the government makes wearing a face-mask mandatory for their employees. By implementing this measure, the Government hopes to see that other employers will follow this example.

The Public Entity, the hospital and the auxiliary home have requested immediate medical support, material, and medical staff from the hospital in St. Maarten and Bonaire. Support and material were also requested from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports (VWS) in the Netherlands. Preparations to have support and material available on a short notice are in full progress.

All efforts of the Public Health Department are now focused on contact tracing and contact sourcing of the positive tested persons. There are no additional positive cases at this time. (Statia GIS)

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Rotary St Martin Sunrise donates Five internet subscriptions to students of MPC and Sundial

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - With online education extended for one (1) month and with at least 44 SVOBE students lacking internet connections, Rotary St Martin Sunrise came to the rescue, Saskia Kliphuis, innovation coordinator at the SVOBE Schools said in a statement on Wednesday.

“They donated TELEM internet subscriptions for 1 year to various schools on the island, of which 3 were designated to MPC students and 2 to Sundial students. Department heads at hand praised the initiative.

“Students with school going siblings were selected and thus not only 5 but 16 students can profit from this donation.”

saskia INS1 internet donated to mpc 3 students

In the picture: MPC Department head TKL/CXC Raymond Romney, MPC Department Head PBL-PKL Vital Carty, and from Rotary St Martin Sunrise president Dolly Satarangani-Ahuja, Tamali Bryson and Marcellia Henry.

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Three Medical Staff Members Tests Positive for COVID-19. Statia seeks medical resources from Sint Maarten and Bonaire, and the Netherlands

SINT EUSTATIUS (ORANJESTAD) - In total three (3) persons, two (2) employees from the laboratory of the St. Eustatius Health Care Foundation and (one) 1 nurse from the auxiliary home have been tested positive for COVID-19 today, September 8th, 2020.

The Public Entity of St. Eustatius has requested immediate medical support from the hospital in St. Maarten and Bonaire and from the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports (WVS) in the Netherlands.

The Island Assistance Team will meet on Wednesday morning September 10th to discuss additional measures, including a possible curfew and other restrictions. All persons who have tested positive were placed in isolation immediately.

Everyone who came into direct close contact with these three workers will be tested for Covid-19. If tested positive, then also these contacts will be put in isolation.

The Public Health Department will soon have the results of the contact tracing and contact sourcing of the positive tested persons. The community will be informed on the results of this.

The local government assures Statian residents that this matter is taken very seriously and that the safety of the people of St Eustatius is our highest priority. Further measures to prevent spreading of the virus will be taken if required. (Statia GIS)

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Governor Holiday’s Parliamentary Address on the Opening of the 2020-2021 Parliamentary Year

SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – His Excellency Governor Eugene Holiday delivered the following speech at the opening of the 2020-2021 parliamentary year. His speech is as follows:

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Good Morning,

And very special greetings to the people of Sint Maarten.

Today September 8th, 2020, we are gathered in this unusual virtual setting to mark the start of the new parliamentary year 2020-2021. It is a sign of the exceptional circumstances in which we live.

 

It is against that background that I appear before you, in my capacity as Governor, to present Parliament – and thus the people of Sint Maarten – with an outline of the policy plans of government for the coming year.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

As a country, as a people, each of us, our families, our neighbors, our businesses, our civil organizations, and our government are experiencing and are called upon to respond to the unprecedented impact of the global coronavirus pandemic. The coronavirus commonly referred to as COVID-19 has affected our way of life and our livelihood in many ways.

Our health, our social interactions, our way of worship, our jobs, our economy, are under threat. Since March 17, 2020, the coronavirus, has infected 511 persons, hospitalized 70 persons, and taken the lives of 19 persons.

The outbreak of the pandemic has led to a virtual halt of international travel due to the lock down of countries and the fear of infection around the world.

That has resulted in and continues to lead to financial fallout in our tourism businesses and economy. Tourism arrivals are estimated to drop by up to 70% while GDP is projected to decline by 25.0% in 2020. The contraction in 2020 is expected to be significantly worse than the economic fallout from the effects of Hurricane Irma. Unemployment is expected to increase from 9.3% to 16.2%, as many among us lose jobs and face cuts in working hours and/or pay. Already cash strapped, the public finances have been hard hit, as the government faces a further increase of its deficit to NAf.350 million in 2020.

Over the past 6 months many of our people have as a result experienced and continue to experience tough times.

I therefore pray for the recovery of everyone who is suffering with the coronavirus and for those whose livelihoods are at risk. And my sympathy goes out to the families who have lost loved ones.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

As we endure the impact of this public health and social economic crisis, we must come together to turn this crisis into a common purpose. That is, we must work together to find a workable balance between safeguarding the health of our people and the health of our economy.

 

Government’s agenda has as a result been dominated by the response to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. That without losing sight for the long-term development needs of our country.

Confronted with the coronavirus outbreak, and the resulting significant loss of income, government’s immediate priorities are:

  • First, to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus;
  • Second, to support school and business continuity, prevent layoffs and protect the most vulnerable among us;
  • Third, to jump start the economy and implement the required reforms;
  • And fourth, to raise the required financing to offset the loss in revenues and cover budget deficits for the remainder of 2020 and fiscal year 2021.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Government is as such committed to working with social partners, businesses, and labor unions, to realize these priorities and put Sint Maarten on a path of sustainable social economic recovery and growth. A path which is to reflect the objectives of the National Development Vision 2030.

The National Development Vision 2030 aims to anchor our country’s development goals and mission for the coming 10 years. Government will take steps to diversify and create a multi-pillar economy. One that affords maximum growth for all, where opportunities exist to empower each citizen to progress to the next level through their determination, strength of mind and actions. The key underlying objective of the National Development Vision 2030 is to transform Sint Maarten into an economically resilient, compassionate, strong, and decisive country.

The ongoing community consultations to obtain input from the various partners, is a critical part of the preparation process. There is no limit to the progress that we can realize when we work together to address our challenges and seize opportunities. 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

During the initial outbreak of the coronavirus government activated its emergency operating center. To contain the outbreak government declared a State of Emergency and locked down the country by instituting a curfew and restricting international travel. A decision which was not taken lightly.

In doing so, Government worked and continues to work closely with medical professionals, at Collective Prevention Services, at the laboratories, and at the Hospital as well as with our partners in the Kingdom. The development of COVID-19 testing capabilities was an important step in the ongoing fight against COVID-19.

During and since the lifting of the lock down government has and continues to focus on a combination of measures aimed at prevention, detection, and treatment of COVID-19 infections. These measures include:

  • One, a national COVID-19 information campaign, in various languages via mainstream and online media, via digital boards and via community campaigns, to reduce the risks to the population. This also includes the introduction of the 914 hotline;
  • Two, establishing and issuing guidelines for social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands;
  • Three, strengthening the capacity of Collective Prevention Services, to conduct testing, perform contact tracing and monitor those in isolation or quarantine;
  • Four, investing in PPE for medical professionals;
  • And five, decreeing the temporary closure of businesses and organizations where necessary.

From our experience we know that these measures worked to flatten the curve during the period April through June. We can therefore draw inspiration from the knowledge that we can contain the spread of the virus.

The resurgence and spread of the virus since July, however, have taught us that we cannot be complacent or let our guards down. To the con-tra-ry, we must remain vigilant and steadfast. This is a must because we will remain at risk, for as long as there is no vaccine or cure. We must continue to look out for each other by practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and washing our hands. 

Moreover, government is committed to continue working with the Sint Maarten medical Center to increase ICU beds, ventilators, and staffing capacity to meet the demand for care. Noteworthy is that 41 additional medical staff as well as extra ICU and ventilator capacity was arranged with assistance from the Netherlands.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

In keeping with its priorities Government, facing the economic fallout of these exceptional circumstances, decided to introduce a three months Stimulus and Relief program, the SSRP, for the period April through June of this year. The program was designed to keep money flowing to workers and businesses and to protect the most vulnerable among us. The SSRP consists of payroll support for impacted businesses and income support for sole proprietors and unemployed persons. The program, somewhat scaled down, was funded with liquidity support from the Netherlands following complex discussions and disagreements regarding conditions for financing.

In addition, government has and continues to take measures to improve the living conditions of our elderly and vulnerable population. Having increased the general pension age to 65 and the pension amount to NAf.1240 in 2020, the government will now focus on a targeted approach for groups who need assistance the most. Groups, such as, those without a second-tier pension and those with a partial AOV.

Looking ahead government is as a result also working on the development and implementation of the Social Registry System funded by the Trust Fund at the World Bank. The social registry system will provide for the mapping of the most vulnerable in our society. This with the objective of improving the delivery and quality of services. It will help plan new projects and programs and play an important role in disaster risk preparedness, such as dealing with crises, like COVID-19.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Given the limited financial resources of government, investing in this and other social development programs to meet the needs of our population will depend on the availability and accessibility of funding.

 

For as long as the global economy and international travel remain depressed, finding ways to generate or access funds to preserve the wellbeing of our citizens is the key challenge for Government. This is an urgent task faced by our country as well as by many countries around the world.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation government has as a result decided to jump start the economy by gradually reopening the airport for international flights, subject to compliance with required safety measures.

Government has, in addition, identified several focal areas that will generate economic activity now and better prepare our critical infrastructure for when the global economy recovers. Specifically, government is directing its attention on:

  1. investments in our digital infrastructure;
  2. investments in our education infrastructure;
  3. investments in our health care infrastructure;
  4. investments in our transport and hospitality infrastructure; and
  5. investments in our energy infrastructure;

This considering the importance of these sectors for the performance and recovery of our economy and given that private and World bank financing has been secured for most of the investment projects.

These investments will secure work for our people, generate future foreign exchange, and pay for themselves. Government will therefore continue to work with stakeholders and Parliament towards the effective execution of these projects.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Looking ahead, Government deems it critical to act now to seize the opportunities of the rapid digitization of society. The need to do so has been further underscored by the realities of COVID-19, as the demand to use technology in everyday life, such as, buying groceries, distance learning, telemedicine, and remote working increased. The ongoing crisis has also highlighted the need for government to interact with citizens online in a secure environment as well as the need for in office or remote working options for civil servants.

Recognizing the rapid use of technology government is committed to facilitating investments in a secure, and efficient digital infrastructure. Government will therefore continue to work with telecom provider TelEm, to facilitate the realization of the island wide fiber-optic network. This ongoing investment of approximately NAf.40 million, is essential to better support the online platforms of our schools, of our health care sector, of our banks, and of our hospitality sector such as hotels, Airbnb, restaurants, and car rentals. Its implementation is as such providing jobs now and providing the backbone to power our social and economic development in the digital age.

Government is therefore working on the implementation of its Digital Transformation Project. Activities implemented under this project will increase the productivity and efficiency of the organization and transform how citizens interact with the Government and vice-versa. The digitization initiatives include:

  1. One, the introduction of a Digital Identity for citizens to allow for accurate identification when conducting business with Government;
  2. Two, the introduction of a new financial management system, including online billing and payment services;
  3. Three, automation of the building permits process, including online applications;
  4. And four, the retrofitting of the Public Service Centers with the installation of kiosks and other technological advancements to increase the number of transactions possible at those locations.

Under the World Bank managed Trust Fund a budget of USD.12 million has been allotted towards government’s digital transformation project which is to be implemented over a period of four years. The project is expected to be approved by September 30, 2020.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

In navigating these challenging times, it is imperative to continue to invest in our human resources as the driver of our development and growth. The education of our children therefore forms a key part of government’s policy agenda, as outlined in the Education Master Plan.

Considering the challenges faced because of COVID-19 government has developed and established several policies to guide the safe delivery of quality education during the various phases of the pandemic. Specifically, government is implementing its Education Continuity Plan, to ensure the continuity of education during this crisis.

An important element of government’s plan is its ongoing work to improve the delivery of education through distance learning. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the challenges of technology in education as schools resorted to remote learning. Challenges due to inequities between schools and households because of, among others, access to computers and to the internet. The distance learning policy is therefore directed at improving access to technology for all in education. That in support of improving the delivery and quality of distance learning.

Government is at the same time working with the World Bank to prioritize schools for emergency repairs. This aimed at activating the USD.35 million allocated in the Trust Fund towards the Education Master Plan. In that regard government expects to start with the first repairs of the identified schools this year.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

With respect to investments in the health care infrastructure government will continue to work on reforming and upgrading the health care system. The objective is to further improve the quality and increase the availability and accessibility of health and mental health services for the people of Sint Maarten.

The planned health care reform is geared at upgrading the regulation and registration of all medical practitioners, improving communication between care providers via a Health Information Management System (HIMS), controlling cost for pharmaceuticals and improving the medical referral system.

A central element of the government’s health care program in the coming period will therefore be the construction of the new hospital, while also increasing the number of available specialties. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of the realization of the new hospital facilities. The new hospital will increase in-patient bed capacity to 110, add operating theaters, create out-patient clusters, and include a 30-patient Dialysis center. The larger hospital will increase the quality and quantity of treatments on-island, thereby reducing overseas referrals and thus costs. The importance of reducing overseas referrals has been magnified with the current COVID-19 related travel restrictions.

Based on the current planning, the delivery of the New Hospital is scheduled for the end of 2024. With the financing already secured Government is therefore committed to supporting the Medical Center with the realization of the construction.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

In charting our path for recovery, government is focusing on the improvement of our transport and hospitality infrastructure. That with an emphasis on product development, diversification, and legislative reforms. Government considers the restoration of the airport terminal building critical to the improvement and functioning of our transport and hospitality infrastructure. With the financing already secured, this project offers a good opportunity to generate economic activity and create jobs.

In addition, government as part of its product development policy has issued a building permit and is working with the developer to facilitate the construction of a new 452 rooms resort in the Great Bay area. The construction will create jobs now, offer future employment and help boost our economy.

The corona virus has also highlighted the need for Sint Maarten to reduce its import bill. Government will therefore work to reduce Sint Maarten’s dependence on fossil fuels. Government will, to that effect, pursue an energy policy anchored on solar energy. This will reduce the electricity bill for businesses and households and save foreign exchange to meet other needs of our population.

Likewise, the government will stimulate the development of the agricultural sector as a means, to reduce our dependence on the import of food. The goal is to promote the “grow what you eat, eat what you grow” movement towards greater self-reliance and food security. The development of this sector should help lessen imports and save foreign exchange.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Government is, notwithstanding its scarce financial resources, committed to investing in the strengthening of law enforcement. This with the objective of maintaining law and order to protect the safety and security of our residents and visitors. The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has created additional challenges in terms of capacity in meeting these objectives. This due to the increased need for manpower to monitor and enforce government’s measures and the need to protect law enforcement personnel against the virus.

Confronted with these challenges’ government has placed the formalization of the function books and the legal position of all employees of the justice ministry high on its agenda. Government is, at the same time, working on the further (re) structuring and strengthening of the executing departments in the justice ministry.

Government as part of its law enforcement agenda is also focusing on:

  1. One, implementing structural improvements in the prison system, including the construction of a new prison with support of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS);
  2. Two, ensuring a more effective enforcement of immigration legislation, including the use of information technology systems;
  3. And three, introducing a more realistic licensing and fees policy based on the actual costs of the justice products.

Government has, at the same time, considering our shared borders with the Northern side of the island continued to work with French authorities to better coordinate island-wide judicial cooperation to combat cross border crime.

 

In addition, Government will continue to hold talks with authorities in Saint Martin towards effective collaboration in regard to addressing the challenges of COVID-19.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

On a Kingdom level, relations have and are expected to be dominated by the COVID-19 crisis. During the past months, government has engaged in extensive four country and bilateral discussions with our partners in the Kingdom. Sint Maarten has as a result received valued technical assistance in terms of health care and military assistance for law enforcement as well as liquidity support from the Netherlands. Government will continue to work closely with its Kingdom partners to address existing capacity and liquidity challenges.

Meanwhile government’s financial strategy is aimed at implementing measures to reduce expenses, increase revenues and source funding to address the projected NAf.350 million deficit budgeted for this year.

Government has, in that regard, already implemented a reform of the civil service pension fund to improve the sustainability of the fund while at the same time reducing the costs of government.

Government also plans to introduce Public Financial Management reform. The reforms are aimed at improved public expenditure management, increasing the efficiency of the tax administration, and broadening of the tax base. Efficiency initiatives include the introduction of online processing of tax returns and the improvement of tax compliance. With respect to the broadening of the tax base government is developing plans to tap into the income opportunities created by the rapid increase in activities in the digital economy, such as online shopping and Airbnb.

Meanwhile, discussions with the Netherlands, to secure funding to bridge government financial shortfalls, have and continue to be strained over disagreements about the terms.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Government, considering its policy agenda and taking the challenging circumstances of COVID-19 into account, is completing the amended 2020 budget and the draft 2021 budget for presentation to and handling by parliament. In doing so government will, in keeping with the Kingdom law on financial supervision, request the Kingdom Government to apply an article 25 deviation, based on the extraordinary financial impact of the Global COVID-19 crisis. And given the urgency government intends to move forward and issue bonds to raise the funds necessary to meet its obligations.

 

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

On the eve of our tenth anniversary of country status, we must act with a sense of urgency and common purpose.

One based on the conviction that together we can and will rise to meet the challenges of COVID-19. A conviction anchored on the courageous men and women out there risking their own health to save lives and to keep us safe. Courageous health care professionals, law enforcement officers, firefighters, other frontline employees, and volunteers, who remind us every day that the protection of our wellbeing and our country is our common purpose. The common purpose of protecting our health, our economy, and our future as a people.

Let us, all of us, businesses, labor unions, other civil society, and government, therefore draw inspiration from our courageous men and women to rise to the task that has fallen on us. A task which calls for effective collaboration across the board. Collaboration, which recognizes the value of unity, the imperative of sacrifice and the virtue of humanity in moments of crisis. (I REPEAT)

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

In this new parliamentary year, government will reach out to you with various legislative initiatives towards the execution of its agenda on behalf of our people. As you review and debate the business of our people - in these exceptional and challenging times - it is essential to keep in mind that our people are counting on parliament and government to rise to the task and lead us out of this crisis.

Mr. Chairman, Members of Parliament,

Thus, as you deliberate and decide on the issues that will come before you in the period ahead, I wish you an abundance of wisdom, strength, and God’s speed.

Stay safe, God bless you and May God bless Sint Maarten and protect its coast.

Thank you

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