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Lenny Priest – 2018 New Year message.

Moving St. Maarten and its people forward stronger and better than ever.

lpriest31122017My brothers and sisters...as this New Year dawns, many face it with slumped shoulders and downcast eyes because we are still feeling the shockwaves of disasters just past—both natural and manmade like physical blows. How can we not when workers who have given their all for years are being asked by companies to either agree a pay cut; reduction of their hours or go home permanently?—anyway you slice it they are going home with less money than their agreed upon wages. How is it that in the period preceding hurricane Irma, when these companies enjoyed significant profits the powers that be never suggested raising the wages of the workers to directly reflect their profits? Yet today these workers, who have the same financial obligations they had before hurricane Irma and in some cases more, are expected to show gratitude for being deprived of half their salary when they need it most. I can see how in a situation like that it may be difficult to find the strength to face the coming year with anything but slumped shoulders.
I can see why you as a pensioner who contributed all you had to give in working to the betterment of your island—for guts and glory as the saying goes—may face this coming year with trepidation. After all, You spent almost the entire last decade shouting to everyone who would listen, “hey guys we are seriously in trouble here with these small pensions...it’s not possible to make ends meet...... we are sitting ducks in the event of a crisis”. You were right. Many of our pensioners own their homes without mortgages. But on their small pension, home insurance would be a luxury. With the passing of Irma many of these homes are damaged and they are without insurance or the funds to conduct repairs, so where does this leave them? How can we not feel angry when after listening to us cry and plead for an increase in the pension to reflect economical conditions government instead introduced huge salaries for themselves to ensure they don’t suffer the fate of the majority of the people who continue to build this country while our leaders act like toy soldiers? It is high time that we address this issue by adopting a pension in parliament that would allow our senior citizens to live comfortably in their golden age.

There are thousands of people and more who lost their roofs and are wondering when will they receive some type of assistance. On a daily basis I am meeting people who built their homes many years ago but couldn’t afford insurance. We have learnt that the government has awarded the contract to a company to start the roof repair program and that the repairs should start very soon. But it behooves the government to contact those homeowners who lost their roofs to let them know that help is on the way. It is also the government responsibility to coordinate the entire roof repair program that is being undertaken by the NGO’s and other organizations.

2018 is one of our defining moments here on St. Maarten. Yes, we have a right to be angry and you should be angry. Angry that our right to self-governance continues to be undermined by people whose lack of understanding of our social values and norms are as far removed as Donald Trump brand of truth and justice at a Mormon convention; that after working for years on so called six month contracts you are left with nothing when that company gets rid of you; angry that you seem to spend more time at the electoral polls than you do at the beach because it always seems that as soon as you learn the name of the new ministers they have been booted out and a new set coming in—at least for eleven months.
This New Year 2018 is as I have said, a defining moment for us. It is up to us what we choose to do with this justified anger we feel particularly when we look at the daunting task of rebuilding. We must take this anger and channel it into passion to keep on fighting to not roll over and play dead because the truth is that even if we have not made the progress we set out to in our respective areas, most of us can look ourselves in the mirror and admit “I made some headway”. The truth is that when things are at their worst is when you are called upon to be your best. There is so much to be done and we like our fathers before us after hurricane Luis in 1995 must be the ones to do it even when we feel our efforts are in vain or our words are falling on deaf ears. There has been much talk about the five hundred and fifty million Euros in Dutch aid.
There is nobody against the aid. This aid is necessary to rebuild St. Maarten stronger and better than ever, it must move this country forward financially and economically. As we enter this New Year we must stay focused and use this opportunity to develop our country in a manner that reflects our culture. We must develop a plan as to how we really want our capital Philipsburg to look in the future. Our people must play a pivotal role in this development and any other way is unacceptable—no longer will we sit by and have decisions made for us and be relegated to the status of observer in the drama of our own lives. We expect that a part of that aid would be allocated to provide low-interest rate loans; a program to convert cruise passengers to stay over guests; the establishment of a loan and mortgage guarantee program to help rebuild our economy including agriculture and to set up programs to eradicate poverty on the island. Small business is the backbone of every economy. An amount of this aid must also be allocated to market St. Maarten more aggressively in the U.S.A. Europe, South America, the Caribbean and other countries.

Thirdly, the much-needed hospital will be built thus allowing more specialists to be available to our people resulting in less people having to travel for medical reasons to Santo Domingo and Columbia. Huge financial savings and better health care will be derived that can be used to further develop this country in becoming a health care tourist destination in this region. Other infrastructural projects must come online including the waste to energy project, our road network and the rebuilding of our hotels especially those that may encounter financial problems with their insurance companies. The allocation of funds for our educational infrastructure is of utmost importance especially that of the University of St. Maarten. Never again in the history of St. Maarten should this university have to go through what it went through over the last couple of months in 2017, the uncertainty of the continuation of the university.

We had no input into whether we got battered by hurricane Irma but we can all choose to let St. Maarten rise from the ashes like a phoenix better than before. It will take all of us to pull this off so it’s time to square those shoulders and look 2018—henceforth the year we rebuilt—in the eye. This is a golden opportunity for us to build better affordable low-income homes for our people and eliminate the construction of shacks forever. We must make use of the public and private partnership program. This program would allow the government to assist the many landowners who are part of succession land on the island to regulate that land to allow government to build low-income homes that after many years would be owned 100% by those landowners. The titles of those properties would remain in the hands of those landowners for generations to come. Without the assistance of the government in partnership with those landowners, we will continue to see the construction of shacks throughout the island.

The writing is on the wall. This is our time and our time is now to rebuild St. Maarten including its’ people once again to become the leaders in their country financially and economically. While it is understandable to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task that lies before us, let’s ask ourselves “are we less noble than our sires?” We are St. Maarten and together we have always been strong so let’s be strong together again. Lean on me as I lean on you and you will be amazed at how much we can accomplish.

With all said above I am making myself available on the list of the National Alliance to you the people in the upcoming election on February 26, 2018 to serve you as a Member of Parliament of St. Maarten.
Citizens of St. Maarten please allow my family and I to wish you and your family a very prosperous New Year 2018. May God bless this Island Nation, St. Maarten and its’ people as we move it forward, stronger and better than ever.

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