Prime Minister’s National Discourse
Permit me as your Prime Minister to come to you, through this TV channel, to inform you about the developments and efforts that this cabinet made since we took over the responsibilities to govern our country.
One of the goals of this Government is to inform the people of Curacao as much as possible about the current developments within the Government. Especially now, as it is known to all, our country is facing major challenges in its financial situation. However, despite the good intentions of all political actors, we observed that the course that our nation was heading to, after we entered the new constitutional structure, was not the best one. It is also known to all, that the political actions and decisions taken in the financial area have resulted in major deficits. Taking into account the major risks our public finances were in, combined with fact the Committee for Financial Supervision (CFT) has sent several warnings to the Government, the Kingdom Government has given Curacao in July 2012 the so called “instructions” to control and balance the budget.
Political leaders, realizing the seriousness of the situation and demonstrating maturity, have set aside their differences in the wellbeing of Curacao and have united to execute an exercise of “character” not “political” to remedy our problems which are becoming more acute and visible on the social, financial and economic area. On December 31 2012, eight people, professionals from Curacao from different sectors, together with me were sworn in by the Acting Governor Mrs. Van der Pluim-Vrede to become minister.
People of Curacao, the numbers show that our financial reality is not encouraging. If we had kept the course we were in previously with the “instruction”, combined with a stagnated economy, it would have been devastating for our economy, for our homes and for everyone on the island.
The task this Government received is to remedy the situation and to take necessary steps to bring back hope, confidence and prosperity to the people. For us to be able to accomplish this, it is necessary to introduce certain austerity measures which have been talked about for years, but no actions were taken. One first step this Government has taken is to make sure that we have a budget which was accepted by the Parliament. A budget is one of the means that shows the people what is going to happen with its money which the Government gets by taxing them. A Government without an approved budget is an act of irresponsibility. That is why we went to Parliament the first week and a half of our Government to pass the 2013 budget.
Even though it was not this Government who prepared the 2013 budget and it does not reflect our policy, as it is stated in our Government Agreement of December 12, 2012, we have opted to continue with it and adapt it with changes through extended budgets. By doing this we avoid a Government without budget and which will take more time to take necessary actions to remedy our financial situation and liquidity.
People of Curacao, to straighten a curved tree is not an easy task! We live in this community and we will also feel the effects of the measures, but believe me, if we don’t take the necessary measures it will be worse, it is a crime! If we fail to take the necessary measures then there won’t be enough money to pay salaries and creditors. Our Government is decisive to avoid such a scenario! Though a decision or action can be hard to take and it can curt, as responsible government officials we will take all necessary actions to change the disastrous course our country is heading.
We’ve also taken different measures in the public sector. Because there is a lot of criticism in the operations of the Ministry of Government Policy, Planning and Public Service, we have decided to renovate the policy team with internal employees to limit the costs and to give the public servant from that Ministry the opportunity to continue with his or her own development.
Taking into consideration the obstacles in the process of residence permits, the Minister of Justice has taken over and has taken measures to improve the process. This is also the situation with the Fire Department.
To create an integral social economic policy for Curacao, an inventory of all current social and economic projects took place. These projects, which are in “full swing” with the goal to stimulate our economy and create jobs for our people started in the first quarter of this year and more projects will be executed still.
In January we had the visit of the Dutch Minister, Dr. Ronald Plasterk, responsible for Kingdom Affairs. This visit developed into an ambiance of understanding from the Dutch Government side, regarding the challenges and difficulties of the tasks we accepted. They showed understanding and willingness to give us space to work and remedy the budget, as it was instructed by them. It is also good to mention that our goal is to fix the relations with our partners in the Kingdom.
People of Curacao, we would love to reduce taxes for business owners, for employees, increase minimum income, make sure that every child gets a good education, fix the roads, guarantee a good pension and take care of our elderly and all this as soon as possible. The reality in which we live in now, does not give us the opportunity to do all this yet.
We have to realize that the current situation urges us to take political actions which are not popular. As leader of this Government, I can guarantee you that we will do our utmost to fight against the source of this problem and we will not focus only on the symptoms. It is important to mention that we are doing our utmost to make sure that those less privileged among us will not feel the effects of the changes. That is why we have excluded those with incomes of a thousand guilders or less.
It is true that the current Cabinet faces major and complicated challenges ahead. Basic insurance, age and pension premium, the financial situation, “financial instructions”, hospital, tax changes and our Kingdom relations are all important and delicate issues and together we have to deal with them for the benefit of Curacao.
Dear people of Curacao, we have worked hard to introduce the Basic Insurance Bill, which objective is to contribute to the reduction of medical costs. Through the feedback we received from our community, we will continue working on this Bill to improve it and also to bring everybody under this new system, without excluding anybody.
We realize that this Basic Insurance will have a direct impact on various groups in our community, however our main goal is achieved with this and that is that now everyone in Curacao is insured and not only a group. We are open for ideas and advices. The members of this Government are motivated and more than willing to work together. We will not continue talking without taking action and wait until it’s too late.
With the adoption of the Bill, this Government has directly worked on one of the CFT advices to reduce Government spending. It is also good to inform that it is this Government’s goal to fix the financial situation in such way that the “instructions” given by the Kingdom Government can be removed by April of this year.
Dear people of Curacao, just like many other countries, our beloved Curacao is also facing problems with aging. In the coming days we will work with our Parliament to make the necessary changes in our Pension Law (AOV). The objective of these changes is to structurally remedy the retirement fund and to guarantee that we can continue paying our elderly. We have the faith that Parliament will agree with the proposed changes, which encompasses another increase in the retirement age from 60 to 65 for all those who are 56 or younger when the Bill passes. Our goal is to introduce this Bill by March 1 2013.
Postponing necessary actions to fix our financial situation is not an option for this Government. It is already known that to generate income which is necessary for this Government to continue offering this nation an infrastructure of service (hospital, insurance, care,…) we have to increase taxes on some products. This Government has chosen to emphasize on luxurious articles and unhealthy products. At the same time it is good to inform that the Government will reduce taxes (sales tax) on other products like fruits and vegetables to 0%.
People of Curacao, we have to do it together, Curacao belongs to us all!
I want to emphasize that this Government does not want people to lose their jobs and is not hunting on anyone or only taking austerity measures. History has proven that his type of trajectory of reducing spending and increasing taxes have done more damage to the people than good. We will not let history repeat itself.
Soon we will announce the initiating of social and employment projects. During the treatment of the 2013 budget, we’ve mentioned that we have set aside 270 million guilders to invest in Curacao. These investments in education, innovation and infrastructure will have a positive impact on our economy and will create jobs.
Through the so called “one window” which soon will be operational, we would like to see local and international business owners, small or large, will receive the services they deserve. We would like to make an appeal to all those business owners not to lose hope. We want to re-establish trust and are ready to bring down barriers that are interfering with the success of your businesses, and work on the creation of more jobs for our people which ultimately can make our economy grow.
Information to the public
The Government is determined to consult with all groups in the community to initiate and facilitate a national process to promote unity where everyone can be conscious of our duties and responsibilities to contribute to the real development of our country.
In the Government Agreement entitled; “Peace, Tranquility and Prosperity”, there are certain specific tasks in which me and my colleagues have been working together. During the coming days, we will initiate programs on radio, television and neighborhood centers where all Ministries will give information and explanation on developments taking place in its area of responsibilities. For this Government it is very important our people receive information from its Government officials.
People of Curacao,
Our country Curacao is a paradise for those living in it. There were times we had one of the best airports in the Caribbean, one of the largest harbors in the western hemisphere, one of the largest refineries in the world, one of the best educational system in the Caribbean, one of the best networks with the best quality in the Caribbean: Curacao was the “shopping center” in the Caribbean! We can achieve this again but it depends on us. While we let negativism continue to be our guide, while we continue fighting amongst ourselves instead of unifying for the benefit of Curacao, while we continue to see an enemy in all our political opponents, while we stay focused on what the differences are instead of what we have in common we will not succeed. Our problems are just symptoms of our negative mentality and we have to work hard on our “mindset”, this mentality can bring change, real change. I am convinced that if the negative mentality and the fight against each other changes to one where we actually work together as Curacao n’s for the welfare of our children, that these so called “problems” we face can be easily solved. And this is why I want to make a dramatic call to our leaders in our community, not only political leaders but in all groups to let us unite and work together to bring welfare to our country which we all love and where our children will grow in peace, tranquility and prosperity.
Our future is not a gift, but it is work that we have to achieve with faith in God and constructive action.
People of Curacao,
Thank you for your attention and I wish you a good evening.