PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — The St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI), during the months of April and May continued its stakeholder’s consultation with various entities to be updated on developments within their various sectors, and to determine the role COCI has in assisting and supporting in their cause. Meetings were held with the Taxi Associations, St. Maarten hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), the various insurance companies, Notaries and Telem.
Consultation with the SHTA, has revealed that there is a lot more to be desired within our tourism sector. Notably is the fact that our tourism sector, especially in occupancy/occupancy rates, has yet to reach post Irma figures. The results are within expectation due to the impact of the Covid pandemic (and its effect on the world’s economy), the war in the Ukraine and other external developments beyond our domestic control. The SHTA is however of the opinion, an opinion which COCI supports, that there is a need for more practical and implementable measures to be adopted, to boost the sector and the economy by extension. These measures include: the set up and finalization of the much talked about Tourism Authority; increased allocation of industry development funding, especially relating to our tourism product -since tourism is considered the golden egg of our economy; increased infrastructure development and most importantly improved technology and data management to aide in decision making.
Given the importance emphasized on having the Tourism Authority establish, COCI is proposing and emphasizing that key stakeholders get involved and proactively undertake what is necessary for its establishment. Government’s inability to bring this long researched and spoken about authority to life requires action from the private sector, for which funding will be sought and expertise be pulled from within.
Consultation with the Taxi’s Associations highlighted the need for proper control mechanism to address the well-known gypsies activities and the dangers such services can encompass. It was brought to COCI’s attention that on numerous occasions visitors may experience theft or mistreatment by those offering gypsy services with general and all may get the blame being placed on the entire industry without distinction; the latter deemed unfair. With such developments, COCI supports the call for more vigilance and control at the Harbor and in Sint Maarten in general, as it relates to the gypsy operation. Simple occurrences can have darning consequences especially in a sector that is albeit important yet fragile.
In consultation with the various private insurance companies, the negative impact of the recent measure by government to increase the wage cap for eligibility for health insurance coverage under the Social and Health Insurances (SZV) was discussed. The further impact on their portfolio, and as a result the ability to offer competitive coverage for those not covered under the SZV, was also addressed. The ever-existing demand of person preferring a private insurance, seems to be under fire and may soon be a right of the past on self determination if Government continues to increase the cap. While discussing the need for attracting a new generation to become familiar with insurance coverage, such as life insurance policies, educational deficiencies were highlighted. The importance and knowledge of insurance coverage must be made part of the curriculum in school, this also to safeguard that policies offered and sold are understood.
Across meetings with stakeholders from different perspectives a call for a review of education curriculum was voiced, with financial literacy and customer services named as key focus areas.
In the latter, COCI underscored the sentiments and agreed as the afore was also a conclusion from a survey conducted by the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten (CBCS), where the dire need for more financial literacy programs was highlighted. Also, during the consultations with SHTA and the notaries the need for qualified personnel and/or customer service training was highlighted.
COCI concludes from the consultations conducted that Government must execute more consultations and consider and process positions provided during consultations before implementing policies and regulations. Regulations that will affect the population and diminish self-determination rights must be presented and explained to the population prior to submission to Parliament. Regulations too often are pushed through the mill, with adverse consequences for a larger group than the group the regulation seems to serve. Stakeholder consultations are often just done to check off a box for a requirement in a process and not with the intent to truly test the regulation. Adverse impact on the business sector trickles down to the population and so ultimately affects the country. So while COCI’s focus is the business sector, it also serves to ensure that the country’s economy remains sound to support the population and all participants therein. COCI further emphasizes that one of the roles of government is to ensure that the business environment is conducive for all to operate within fairly, reason why regulation and policy must be the product of proper prior consultations.
As it pertains to the consultation with TELEM, it was revealed that the company within the short term will embark on an educational drive to inform businesses of ways to improve operational efficiency through telecommunication services. This venture COCI will support given the fact that COCI does not only support the registration of businesses but also supports measures that propel business growth and development.
Telecommunications is a very dynamic and high investment driven industry, with short terms for returns on investment, simply because of the rapid developments in technology.
The size of the telecommunications market in Sint Maarten and the shift to data-based services, has forced telecommunications providers to shift business models. Investments are the sole means of achieving and maintaining proper telecommunications services; this was explained when pressed on the quality of internet- or mobile service provisioning. TELEM Group remains dedicated and has made the necessary investments for a vast improvement to be experienced later this year. The CEO stressed however that this is not where it stops as the company on a continuous basis focuses on serving the demands of customers. Financing will be required to reach new levels of service offering in the telecommunications industry, and as a government owned company this involves Government’s acknowledgement of this need. COCI is very much aware that the theme adopted after the passage of Hurricane Irma was “build back better and more resilient”. Indeed, to achieve the level of desired resiliency and efficiency investment is required. Therefore, COCI hereby calls on the Government of Sint Maarten, the decision makers of the entity as well as decisionmakers and project leaders from the NRPB, to acknowledge the importance of telecommunications for the proper functioning of every segment of our society and to seek and make funding available for such investment; be it part loan or part grant. Our infrastructural development is dependent on this vision for the development of our society.
COCI considers this level of consultation imperative for the execution of its task in providing solicited- and unsolicited advice on matters of national development. Therefore, through this level of consultation COCI is best positioned to better highlight the needs of the various sectors and advocate on the part of its stakeholders. COCI pledged its continued commitment to its members (the business community/stakeholders) through collaboration and through its advocacy role.