PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Prime Minister, fellow ministers of the Council, members of the media, Good Morning.
Let me begin by expressing my appreciation to the Prime Minister and my fellow council ministers for the opportunity to work with such a vibrant and enthused set of individuals whose only motive is to see the people of St. Maarten through the recovery phase that we are currently in.
Hurricane Irma has undoubtedly changed not only the physical landscape of our island; it has changed the economic, financial and psycho-social landscape as well. As Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, besides lending my support and focus to the agreements of the governing accord of the Romeo-Marlin cabinet, in these coming weeks and months my priorities will also be on the early and midterm recovery of our nation and the areas that pertain to my ministry in particular.
As I received Cultural Xpressions of Inspiration for today I would like to share it with you as it says that “Put your heart, mind and soul into even your smallest acts. This is the secret of success (fromSwami Sivananda)”. This inspiration reminds us of the contributions of everyone made in the after math of Irma.
This Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport worked on acts Big and small and has already undertaken many initiatives and completed enormous tasks with the entire sectors such as schoolboards, sport organizations, representatives and organizations for the arts and youth organizations including day care centers.
I would also like to express my sincere thank you and gratitude to former Minister Silveria Jacobs for her pro-active initiatives in the emergency phase after the Irma. We recognize her leadership and support to re-open the schools in October to ensure that our community was able to stabilize and develop some first sense of normalcy in our daily family lives.
Tother with the Ministry I am happy to announce the Ministries contribution to our need to complete our own St. Maarten National Recovery Plan. The preparations to a Ministry Resilience Plan or MRP titled “Education comes first” is a comprehensive approach to working toward the objectives of establishing a foundation for a sustainable recovery and to also improve disaster responsiveness before, during and after disasters in the education, culture, youth and sport sector.
As your new Minister I believe in the principles of an open government, maybe even radical transparency to regain trust amongst our people, our constituents. Of course the press and the entire community expects us to be able to hit the ground running and to make a difference. In line of this belief in participation and partnerships, I can say that my cabinet and I immediately participated in the second series of consultation sessions with key stakeholders of my Ministry on Monday. During this session we agreed that it is imperative to accelerate on vital issues related to reconstruction of schools, sport and cultural facilities.
Projects need to be developed immediately to ensure that the opportunity of funding to the World bank can be considered and I urge the stakeholders to partner with my Ministry and focus on being efficient and effective in the planning and executing of these vital projects with a focus on social economic recovery. While we may consider this ministry to be soft and part of social affairs, I dare to emphasize the critical nature of education, culture and sport and younger generations in a healthy and strong economic and productive recovery.
Projects are expected to be prepared as soon as possible as the matters and preparation of a National recovery plan will have to concluded in actionable items with projected financial consequences. Critical stakeholders will receive an invitation from me this week to discuss our mutual visions, critical recovery issues and goals and the larger group of the stakeholder session will meet once again in February to be informed about urgent priorities, final projects and financial consequences.
While various matters have been prioritized by the Ministry through the MRP plan, we also recognize our day to day responsibilities such as the deadlines and preparations of study financing for new Study financing requests for the academic year 2018-2019. As minister I wilI prioritize and focus on critical areas such as the psycho-social wellbeing of our students, teachers and ECYS staff; curriculum development; safety and preparedness of all ECYS institutions to ensure that our children and youth can learn and develop in an environment that is conducive to their overall development; reconstruction and possible re-zoning of certain critical facilities; capacity building; policy and legislation.
In particular my focus will be on:
- Emphasis put on our most vulnerable groups, such as single mothers, children with disabilities or disorders and low income families.
- An education (reconstruction / re-zoning) plan for various schools and also special attention to schools such as the Charlotte Brookson Academy, St Maarten academy and SVOBE with emphasis on becoming a leading country where it comes to schools that meet criteria of 21st century learning and safe school environments.
- Resource allocation for all affected facilities and therefor careful review of required budgets, the advances through our insurance policies (and possible adjustments of these policies for MECYS), multi annual capital investments and the recovery funding possibilities through the World bank.
- Important legislation related to our recovery such as the legislation for Higher Education and required funding for institutes of higher learning such as for USM.
- Support for the re-training of employees that have been affected by the loss of their job after the hurricane.
- Support and initiatives for sport and cultural (community) programs as we all I am sure understand and should recognize that “Art heals” and that sport activities for our youth can “build understanding, peace and a culture without stress and violence”
- Curriculum development and after-school programs our ministry will seek to develop a national curriculum, which will include other then academic subjects such as agriculture, sport, art and life skills to develop and strengthen well-rounded creative and critical thinkers.
The priorities above may at first glance appear to be a monumental task. Time is short and these tasks are ambitious. On this journey, I have an amazing cabinet staff that has come alongside me to help shoulder the responsibility of making the priorities mention above come to pass. Suenah Laville-Martis, joins the cabinet as policy advisor after an extensive period in the ECYS Inspectorate and Personnel departments. Beverly Mae Nisbeth, the cabinet’s policy officer is a former teacher and past director of the Nature Foundation and has a heart for culture and education.
Henderikus Ekema, has a comprehensive background and education in facility management and his expertise will be focused primarily on ensuring our schools, cultural and sporting facilities get the vital attention they need in this critical reconstruction phase. Giselle York is specialist in the communication field tasked with the role of public relations officer ensuring that both internal and external communication in the Ministry is at its peak. And Michnella Eugenio, whom I have had the pleasure of working with for the last eighteen months in the ministry’s staff bureau as my secretary. I could not imagine making this transition without her and Michnella will be the cabinet’s executive secretary ensuring that our cabinet’s administrative needs are executed in an expert and client friendly manner.
Of course, I look forward to working with the dedicated staff of the MECYS ministry I have had the pleasure to serve as Secretary General for the past three years. We have toiled together, celebrated victories and have learned and grown from our challanges. And now as your minister I pledge to continue to champion the initiatives we have worked on so tirelessly.
To the media, I look forward to building a strong relationship between Ministry and yourselves. Your responsibility within our society is an important one as fair and balanced reporting is in my opinion, the corner-stone of your profession. A strong and active partnership is a must and I commit to you that the door, through our public relations officer, will alway be open.
To the people of St. Maarten, I am very humbled at the overwhelming responsibility of being your Minister of Culture, Education, Youth and Sport. I pledge to work diligently on your behalf and I thank you for support.