Published On: Thu, Sep 10th, 2020

The mother of all challenges

By Hilbert Haar

Our island is facing the mother of all challenges – and even that is an understatement. The COVID-19 crises has laid bare what decision makers have known for a very, very long time: it is dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket.

Successive governments have however done exactly that by ramming themselves on their overfed breasts every time the annual number of cruise arrivals went up. But even before Hurricane Irma and even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, St. Maarten had its best years as a cruise destination already behind it. Gone from center stage are the people who drove that economic engine: the disgraced politician Theo Heyliger and the evenly disgraced port director Mark Mingo.

It is obviously useless to keep reflecting on the past and on what could have been. What we need now is a sensible government to lead us out of this crisis. We are not lost, far from it, but we are damn well in urgent need of decisive action.

Politicians like to use terms like ‘the way forward’ and ‘resilient’ but where is that way forward now? How do we show our resilience?

Solving a problem always begins with the acknowledgement that you have one. Any recovered alcoholic can tell you that. They did not recover saying that banning the booze from their life is an infringement on their constitutional rights.

We have to begin by admitting that ten years of autonomy have not done the island community a lot of good. Successive governments have failed to deliver. Pointing fingers is of no use: they are all guilty, at best in different degrees.

The solution to our predicament obviously has to come from the Netherlands. I am not writing this because I am Dutch but because it is so bloody obvious. Selling governments assets to save what is left of our pride is plain stupid. MP Melissa Gumbs expressed it like this: You don’t sell your light bulbs to pay your electricity bill. Brilliant!

When there is no more money, will the government give a piece of its autonomy to suffering entrepreneurs to share with their employees? I didn’t think so either.

Therefore the way forward that our decision makers love so much is clear, is it not?

Accept those darn Dutch conditions to secure continued liquidity support but keep your eyes on the ball when the Caribbean Reform Entity comes up with projects we dislike. Parliament and government will be involved in those projects and, rather than frustrate progress with outright refusals, they ought to prove how resilient they really are by proposing constructive amendments that benefit the people who live on our island.