As Prime Minister of St. Maarten, and on behalf of the Council of Ministers, my famiy and I bring you warm greetings for a Blessed, Happy, Safe and Prosperous New Year 2023.
As we said goodbye to 2022, and welcomed 2023, a year of sustainable growth and development, we acknowledge that the year has flew by, with many lessons and challenges which provided opportunities for growth and development. During 2022 we saw tremendous progress as we got our economy back up and running after the devastation of the previous years dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic which shook our foundations, affected our health both physically and mentally as well as financially and economically with the subsequent world-wide economic downturn as the world stood still. Something that still impacts us today.
Then just as we started to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and adjustment to a new normal in 2022, the war on Ukraine started to extend its toll on the people of our island as well; with skyrocketing oil prices worldwide and supply chain disruptions negatively impacting every aspect of our lives such as the cost of living for basic needs like food, gas and electricity, while driving the cost of construction up even more. This has indeed impacted the vulnerable the most, even as ongoing cost cutting measures continued to impact those struggling to help themselves and their families as well.
Amid all this, we have seen families suffer the loss of loved ones, both tragically as well as due to illness. I take this time to extend our deepest condolences to all who have lost loved ones in 2022 and those still feeling the brunt of loss over the years. To those who are still hurting, I remind you that you are not alone, and that as a people of faith, we continue to lean on God’s everlasting grace and mercy to see us through the worst of times. As a council, know that our thoughts and prayers, love and support are with you and your families.
During 2022, we continued to focus on the importance of family, protecting and caring for our mental health, staying healthy in general, protecting our most vulnerable, especially women and children, as well as started to focus on men as well. We saw an upsurge in awareness and community activities, organizations geared to address day to day struggles and the business community collaborating with government and government entities which resulted in the actions of the ordinary man and woman effectuating positive change in the lives of others.
Despite the serious challenges we continue to face, including lack of capacity and financing, we have also seen tremendous growth and development as a Government and people of Sint Maarten, with great advancements over the past 12 months thanks to the commitment and hard work of our civils servants, collaboration with key stakeholders. We continue to liaise within the kingdom and with national and international agencies to secure financing to be able to realize our vision for St. Maarten and her people.
As Minister of General Affairs, I was proud to successfully launch the National Development Vision, which is now the framework upon which we will prioritize the implementation of the Country package of reforms, and our governing program. We are diligently working on legislation and policies, while supporting all other ministries. We have also focused on building relationships with key partners and sought to collaborate as much as possible within the region.
The support from the Cabinet of the Plenipotentiary Minister continues with representation of the St. Maarten government at Kingdom level, enhancing opportunities for growth and development for St. Maarten via the EU through OCTA, and by continued networking through our Business-to- Business matchmaking initiative and looking for other foreign direct investment opportunities for St. Maarten in 2023.
As a government, we will continue to seek solutions to enhance training of management, speed up the hiring of needed personnel to build needed capacity and enhance our support services as well as service to the general public. The digitalization project under the trust fund continues to move ahead on schedule, which will bring much needed efficiency to the services we render to the public - We continue to grow in this area.
We also see great progress in implementation of the government’s reconstruction projects being executed under the NRPB, the National Recovery Program Bureau. Many projects were carried out on behalf of and in collaboration with government during 2022 with will continue with even greater results expected in 2023.
It is worthy to mention that Government received high praise from the World Bank in its the Mid-Term Review Report of the Sint Maarten Reconstruction, Recovery, and Resilience Program for its favorable results, which include a high disbursement of funds and early results in social protection, infrastructure repair and reconstruction, as well as employment generation, despite early challenges. Even with current setbacks due to the increases in construction-related prices, and supply chain delays, we see that the large construction projects of our airport and hospital are getting back on track.
The focus for the coming period will be on continued work on the Emergency Debris Management Project, seeking solutions for housing, and infrastructure, and working to ensure the roadmap to sustainable energy transition commences in 2023.
Growth and sustainable social and economic development for ALL continues to be the goal for the government of St. Maarten as we strive to ensure a good quality of life for OUR people. We will continue to do our utmost to provide the needed opportunities for entrepreneurship, for efficiency of doing business, creating a positive climate for foreign investments, keeping our island safe and ensuring our most vulnerable are protected and well cared for. We continue to promote a positive, never-give-up attitude and work ethic as we close 2022 and welcome 2023.
As government of St. Maarten, we have been at the table with our Kingdom partners seeking for fair and equitable treatment of St. Maarten and other countries within the Kingdom. We will continue to do so in 2023, even as we define more and more for ourselves who we are, where we want to be and what we are prepared to do in the short, medium and long term as we prepare for the future we must design.
The recent apologies by the Dutch Government have been received, and though the dialogue for St. Maarten is in its infancy, we are striving to ensure that our voices are heard. We will ensure that we take the lead in determining St. Maarten's position in dialogue with the wider community and lawmakers to ensure equitable treatment of St. Maarten. As a people who are descendants of the enslaved, and the inheritors of the vestiges and systems of the period of enslavement and subsequent colonialism which still permeates our existence, our functioning and the very real lack of development we are striving to improve on today.
In that regard, as a government we are taking the necessary steps to remove the cost cutting measures negatively impacting our people retroactive to December 31, 2022 and will make the announcements once the necessary legal steps are taken.
Our focus is on building a Nation, a Nation of strong, self-sufficient people, by improving the quality of life, improving opportunities for progress for each citizen by creating opportunity, nurturing pride, promoting culture and community involvement. It is a lofty vision, one which we all deserve to dream. Moreso, it is a vision we must all work together to achieve, and I challenge each of us to do so in 2023 and beyond. So heed the call in your communities, in society at large to contribute, to be heard, to collaborate, to work together with your government to build a better St. Maarten for this and all future generation.
A blessed, happy and safe Happy New Year 2023 to on and all.