Members of Parliament,
Good day and
Special greetings to the people of Sint Maarten.
Five days from today, on Monday, October 10, 2022, my term will come to an end. It is in that light that I appear before you today to bid you farewell as Governor of Sint Maarten.
I bid you farewell also on behalf of my former colleague and friend, former acting Governor, the late Reynold Groeneveld who regrettably is no longer with us. With your permission Madam Chairlady, I request a moment of silence in honor of his dedicated and distinguished service to Sint Maarten, as the first acting Governor of Sint Maarten from October 10, 2010, to May 24, 2022. …….
I was appointed Governor of Sint Maarten by Kingdom decree of September 20, 2010. On September 30, 2010, I took the oath of office before her majesty, Queen Beatrix. And I accepted the function as Governor of Sint Maarten before, you the people, through the Parliament of Sint Maarten on October 10, 2010.
On that historic day, Marie Louise and I set out with you on a new journey into unchartered waters.
In my acceptance address on October 10th, 2010, I stated:
My fellow St. Maarteners,
Today we stand at the portal of our new Country Sint Maarten. From personal experience, I can inform you that the road to this moment was not smooth. But we made it. With the knowledge, I acquired during that journey I can equally inform you that the challenges ahead are immense. The tasks ahead of us are great. We will have to build critical institutions for the functioning of our parliamentary democracy, ……….. from the ground up. …………..
In that regard, there rest on us a great responsibility; a responsibility to build and nurture a stronger Sint Maarten for future generations. With that great responsibility, we also have a great opportunity. …… How we address this challenge and approach this opportunity, will determine our success in the discharge of our responsibilities. So far, my remarks of 2010.
Considering the challenges and opportunities, I in taking on my responsibilities as your Governor from the onset established: Excellence in Governance to Serve you the People of Sint Maarten as my vision. A vision aimed at working with government and parliament to provide you, the people of Sint Maarten, with the highest possible standard of governance. A vision that I pursued during my two terms in office. I did so with an unwavering belief in and appreciation for Sint Maarten, our people, and our potential; a belief which I continue to have.
During the past few weeks, various persons have extended best wishes and thanks to Marie Louise and me for the work we have done. Your good wishes have been heartwarming, and we are grateful for your words of support. It has been an honor and privilege to serve as your Governor for the past 12 years. Throughout my tenure, I have been able to depend on the support of many in our community and for that, I hereby express my heartfelt thanks to the people of Sint Maarten. Your interest and support have been my primary source of inspiration and motivation.
As I started preparing my address, it dawned on me that our country is as old as my service as Governor. I was there from the very beginning. I was in the delivery room for the birth of our Country, Sint Maarten as a country within the Kingdom. And in the past 12 years, I have witnessed the stages of growth and the growing pains, I have experienced and shared in the moments of joy and the moments of disappointments, and I have offered guidance, given encouragement, and where and when necessary warned.
Looking back at my 12-year tenure, it has been an extraordinary journey.
I remember the contacts with many persons in our community through national events, the Governor’s new year receptions, my working visits at schools, visits with the elderly, to government departments, and others. These are moments and experiences Marie Louise and I will always remember fondly. It was at moments like those that I always emphasized the importance of maintaining a standard of excellence. In that regard, the youth has always been my focal point which led to my introducing the Governor’s Youth Awards for Excellence to encourage our youth to always strive to be the best they can be, in preparation for their service to our country.
My 12 years tenure saw many challenges: economic, political, constitutional, and natural. The little remaining water of the Great Salt Pond between the administration building and the Parliament House was often troubled, the transatlantic waters between Philipsburg and The Hague were more often than not stormy, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean brought us the strongest hurricane on record in 2017, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020-2022 flooding our shores like a Tsunami and the 2021-2022 global inflation has been engulfing our purchasing power like a tidal wave. In short, we have had our fair share of challenges. It is my belief that we, like the generations before us, can and will draw from these challenges for the betterment of Sint Maarten.
Screening of candidate ministers
My work as Governor began de facto with the September 17, 2010, elections. Following the elections, I invited the political leaders of the parties that won seats in Parliament for consultation. In so doing, I began my first oversight and guidance of the government formation process resulting in the appointment and installation of the first Council of Ministers of Sint Maarten. That very first formation process was a signal of what was to come. There were some objections to the screening of candidate ministers and there was ship-jumping. From the inception, I made the screening of candidate ministers an integral part of the government formation process. It is a standard that is non-negotiable. And because of my persistence, the national decree regulating the screening of candidate ministers was signed in 2013. The screening of candidate ministers has remained a bone of contention for some, to this day. The level of contention and objections only increased in October 2014 when the Kingdom Government issued an instruction by Kingdom Decree regulating the screening of candidate ministers and charging me in my capacity as Governor with the execution of the Kingdom Decree. This caused further controversy in the already strained relations between Philipsburg and The Hague.
For the building of any nation, of our nation, it is essential to set and pursue the highest possible standards of Governance. Ensuring that the holders of public office meet certain integrity and national security standards is fundamental to guaranteeing the quality of government needed for the development of our country. I, therefore, applied a consistent approach to the screening of candidate ministers at every government formation during my tenure. That was possible thanks to the cooperation of all the formateurs and Prime-Ministers who worked with me during my tenure. I, therefore, commend them for that and trust that we will continue to uphold that standard.
Politically, my first and most of my second terms were characterized by addressing instability and/or continuity in government. During my twelve years in office, there were 4 elections (2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020). I oversaw and guided the formation of 7 Governments (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020) and 3 interim governments (2015, 2018, and 2019). Some of the most contentious moments during my Governorship often came following the fall of governments and the call for early elections. The 2012 fall of the government was baptized the carnival coupe. The 2013 political conflict was dubbed the Mexican standoff. I established a panel of judges to resolve the constitutional crisis following the 2015 fall of the government. My decisions to ratify the call for early elections by the government in 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and by the government in 2019 were called into question by officials on both sides of the Atlantic. In that regard I wish to note that the right to vote and be voted for is a democratic standard; it is one of the most sacred rights in our parliamentary democracy and it is our greatest obligation to provide the opportunity for voting to take place.
Looking back, I cannot imagine that there is anyone who would say that the political discord and partisanship of the past 12 years is the standard we want for our political process. As a country, it is our obligation to self-correct and steady the political ship as we journey into the next phase of our country’s development. An obligation that calls for us to rise above the narrow confines of our individual interests to the higher and broader concerns of our society. This realization is critical because it seems that too often public and private policies are driven by politics and factors other than those that are in the interest of the people.
In addition to the issues of instability and/or continuity in government, my second term was characterized by the impact of hurricane Irma and the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. The magnitude of both crises resulted in the need for and declaration of a state of emergency, including a hard lockdown of the country in the case of COVID-19. The damages caused to our infrastructure and to our financial and economic foundation are substantial. They have weakened the financial position of businesses and households and left our government cash-strapped. And the effects are expected to last for a long, long time to come. These two crises are game changers for our country. They emphasize the vulnerability, and the limitations, but also the resilience of our people and the island. Three factors which we can, which we should, draw from to build a stronger more sustainable Sint Maarten.
National Strategy and partnerships
These external shocks remind us of the urgent need to take stock of the challenges, risks, and threats, to the sustainability of our nation. Critical in this regard are the education gap, poverty, climate change, energy transition, and digital transformation, among others. Issues that I have highlighted through my Governor’s symposia to encourage the development of a cohesive national strategy. A standard necessary for the long-term development and viability of our nation. Considering the global nature and external linkages of the issues mentioned it is essential that our national strategy focuses on strengthening existing and creating new partnerships within the Kingdom and in our region. Partnerships are based on the understanding that global challenges require interkingdom and transnational solutions. We must therefore continue to seek to broaden our geopolitical scope and foster deeper relations and cooperation with our regional neighbors and partners. Throughout my tenure, I have as a result made several official visits to the US and various Caribbean neighbors, from Trinidad in the south to the Dominican Republic in the west to foster geopolitical and trade ties. It is my hope that these and future actions will result in Sint Maarten’s participation in the OECS and Caricom.
In the face of our challenges, I have seen the flaws of our country but have been gratified to see that there have always been people, politicians and others, ready to roll up their sleeves to find solutions and a path forward. In the face of political discord, there were always persons who rose to the occasion to perform their civic duty. To organize fair and orderly elections where our people would go to the polls peacefully. Thereby providing the foundation for the functioning of our parliamentary democracy and progress.
As I indicated in my acceptance address, we would have to build critical institutions from the ground up. Today anchored on the hard work of our dedicated professionals we have reason to say that we have made important strides forward. Encumbered with the challenges we faced; we tend to overlook the progress we have made. It is in those moments that I remember our men and women who every day suit up to keep this country running, our civil servants, our police officers, our teachers, our firemen, our nurses, our doctors, our supermarket workers, our garbage collectors and in contrast to what many think politicians and many others. If there was any doubt as to who constitutes the backbone of our country, COVID-19 reminded us. Because of them and others, I can proudly say that Sint Maarten remains one of the best places in the world to live. That is not to say that all is well and that we do not have more work to do to secure the welfare and well-being of all residents. It is instead to say that we must aspire not to be one of the best but rather to be the best country in the world to live in. And it is to remind us that behind every corporate and public sector decision someone is being impacted and with that the quality of life on Sint Maarten.
In charting our path forward as a people, it is essential that we have a full understanding of our history and heritage. In 2012, I was therefore proud to affix my signature to the national ordinance to declare Emancipation Day a national holiday. It is the celebration of the freedom of all the people of Sint Maarten. It shows the courage of our people to face our complicated history. It is a symbol of our love for freedom, it is a moment in our history very worthy of commemoration, and for all Sint Maarteners to stand and get behind.
Looking back on the past twelve years, I reflect with pleasure on our observances and celebrations of Emancipation Day, Sint Maarten Day, the National Day of Prayer, and the National Thanksgiving Day when we joined in friendship and unity and reflect our Sint Maarten spirit and nature.
In my acceptance address twelve years ago, I stated:
My fellow Sint Maarteners,
It is my conviction that a bright and positive future lies ahead if we can develop a people-centered vision for Sint Maarten.
I still hold that conviction.
Today 12 years later we stand at a transition point in our young history as a country. We are witnessing a changing of the Guard as my successor, Mr. Ajamu Baly, prepares to take office on October 10, 2022. In doing so we can look ahead and build on the experiences of the past twelve years.
Madam Chairlady, Members of Parliament,
To the people of Sint Maarten, I wish to remind you that our nation is as good as we are and that it will go as far as we take it. We know what worked and what failed.
We know that political instability, ship-jumping, and putting personal over public interest failed us.
We know that unity, solidarity, and cooperation served us well. We know that our systems of checks and balances served us well. Let us, therefore, embrace the future with that knowledge and stand together. Let us support and stand behind my successor.
In closing, as I said on October 10, 2010, Marie-Louise and I set out with you on a new journey into uncharted waters. In those twelve years, a lot has happened. It has been my honor to serve you as your first Governor and thus constitutional head of Government on behalf of the King. A true privilege as a son of the soil and patriot to help build Sint Maarten in its formative years as a country within the Kingdom.
I have been able to perform my duties thanks to the support of many persons' over the years. And to all of them, I hereby extend my sincere thanks. In particular, I wish to publicly thank the staff of my cabinet, members of my extended cabinet who I could always call on, the members of the Governor’s transition committee for their tireless work, the civil servants in government who I have been able to count on, the chairpersons and members of parliament, the prime ministers and ministers who I have worked with, my siblings who were always there in the background and you the people of Sint Maarten. You, your interest kept me inspired.
Finally, I am grateful to my wife, Marie Louise, my sounding board, right hand, confidant, and most valuable support.
And after all, is said and done, I know that I made it through by the grace of the Almighty God. Because as the first Governor of our new country most things were a first for me and history will show that on several occasions Sint Maarten broke new constitutional ground. And I always turned to God for wisdom, courage, and direction.
God Bless You,
And May God Bless Sint Maarten and Protect its coast.