While sharing his vision for the future of his Ministry, Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic & Telecommunication Stuart Johnson made it clear to over 100 civil servants on Wednesday afternoon, that he was ready to roll up his sleeves, and “put on my sneakers and get to work.”
Johnson outlined his strategic plan for the ministry of TEATT for the coming four years, which includes Instituting the current Philipsburg revitalization plan as a priority. His projects will also involve developing community-based tourism and developing a sustainable agricultural policy to maximize the potential of farming and fishing.
The ministry will make significant investments to improve the island’s road network and reduce traffic congestion. During the presentation, Johnson also explained that the Ministry will finalize a public infrastructure development plan and establish a clearly defined policy on public transportation and infrastructure.
I He referred to the more than one hundred civil servants in attendance as the “heart of the entire government” and told them they would be called upon to play a critical role in the sustainable redevelopment of St. Maarten, especially in revitalizing its Tourism product and the economy.
According to Minister Johnson, “It is not going to be business as usual for TEATT.” During the special presentation, held at the Government Administration Building, many of the staff posed questions to the Minister regarding his future plans for St. Maarten. Some also expressed concerns over longstanding issues within their departments that were left unresolved and asked whether the Minister would give these issues the attention they deserve.
While much of the issues mentioned have been lingering long before Johnson’s time, he has pledged his commitment to addressing them. One such concern came from Casino Controllers expressed the need for mandatory increases in security at casino entrances based on the spate of violent criminal activities in recent times.
The Minister, whose father served for several years as a Casino Controller, acknowledged that the security of the Controllers is a top priority for his ministry. He commended one of the Controllers who suggested that one measure that can be taken is to encourage casino operators to install double doors at the entrance to their establishments, similar to those at most banks, but with the addition of a metal detector.
The young Minister Johnson impressed the attendees with his quick responses and showed a keen understanding of the challenges within each ministry. He shared his strategic objectives, which include urgently reopening the Princess Juliana International Airport and finalizing the US Pre-Clearance for St. Maarten, as short-term goals. The Simpson Bay Lagoon will be cleaned as part of the short-term objectives for TEATT.
The Ministry will also work towards increasing the “basket of goods” and will initiate and enforce a fair price control during the recovery period. However, Johnson said measures such as price control would be only as effective as the effort our civil servants put into ensuring strict controls are done.
During the question and answer session, one of the attendees said he agreed that the reopening of PJIA should be a priority, but asked the Minister about the plans for reopening hotels.
During his first month in office, Johnson has spent a significant portion of his time meeting with hoteliers large and small to discuss their plans for rebuilding and finding ways to strengthen the public-private partnership in the interest of moving St. Maarten forward. He mentioned meeting with the Sunwing Airlines who will soon start construction of the 450 room five-star Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino at the location of the former Great Bay Beach Resort & Casino which was demolished after being destroyed by hurricane Irma.
He said more investments were forthcoming and he also made clear that we will need to improve efficiencies to create a climate that is conducive to generating investor interest. This includes proper and timely processing of information that is pertinent to new developments and expansions. “As civil servants, you are in control of your creative thinking, and I welcome innovative thinking and ideas,” said Johnson.
Amongst the plans for TEATT were short-term objectives for the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau, such as combining resources between French and Dutch St. Maarten for destination marketing and other joint venture projects geared towards product enhancement.
His mid to long-term goals for the ministry include managing the parallel imports and counterfeit market and strengthening maritime facilities and services. Johnson said TEATT will revisit and reinstate the Economic Development Cooperation and evaluate the feasibility of making Winair a national airline.
The Ministry will review the possibilities of restructuring the development of Civil Aviation, and Shipping & Maritime Affairs into two separate and Independent Administrative Bodies.
TEATT will also concentrate much of its resources on stimulating entrepreneurship amongst the local population, and also provide support to small hotels to ensure that they can continue to provide service to our regional visitors. In preparation for the celebration of 50-years of Carnival on St. Maarten, the STB will work closely with the St. Maarten Carnival Development Foundation SCDF to increase awareness through special joint venture promotions. However, Johnson says promoting carnival and promoting the destination as a preferred vacation spot should go hand in hand each year.