Aruban Prime Minister Outlines Economic Strategy at M-RCBG Seminar

October 17, 2011
by Victoria Groves, M-RCBG

Smart growth, sustainability and an optimistic view of the future were all important lynchpins of a seminar delivered Friday (Oct. 14) by Michiel Godfried “Mike” Eman, Prime Minister of Aruba. Eman spoke as part of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government’s (M-RCBG) weekly business and government seminar series. The visit coincides with the island nation’s commemoration of 25 years of autonomy within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The country, with a population of 101,000 residents, supports two major industries—tourism and an oil refinery, which has operated off and on since being established in the 1920s. Tourism has offered a steadily increasing source of employment and revenue for the island since the first hotel opened in 1950, but has done little to directly ensure that social gains keep pace with economic ones.

“We have five star hotels…I’d like to see five star schools and five star homes for the elderly,” Eman said. “When there’s a gap between economic progress and social progress, you get a disconnect, and the people are the ones who carry all these institutions with their sweat and labor.”

In an effort to change what he saw as potential future disengagement, the Prime Minister has created a two-fold strategy to move ahead with social-economic progress based on national consensus. First, the country will use its geographic placement and ties to the Netherlands strategically. “We are only a few kilometers away from emerging economies like Brazil…Aruba has cultural access to these markets,” Eman said. “We can be the gateway for the European Union and the Kingdom of the Netherlands to access the Caribbean and Latin America.”

Second, by harnessing a natural abundance of sun, wind and water, Aruba can become less energy-dependent, and leave future generations with a more sustainable landscape.

“This is how we can use the strategic location of Aruba for the benefit of the entire kingdom,” he said. “We will feel the benefits of a sustainable society in this generation and the next.”

With the establishment of a Renewable Energy Research and Education Institute, Aruba plans to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and rely to a much higher degree on alternative sources of energy, such as wind, solar and wave. Currently ten wind turbines create 20% of the island’s energy, with an additional ten to follow and solar power expected to be added next year.

Eman also urged other nations to consider the advances Aruba has made in terms of green space and urban renewal as a comparatively low-cost way to invest in their communities. Instead of building additional hotels and tourist spots on available land, he said, the focus in Aruba has been on refurbishing existing gathering spaces and creating additional recreation venues for residents.

We have chosen to invest in existing places like downtown areas and schools…take a street that has lost its appeal and make it attractive,” he said. “If you restore something, you bring back the shared value to your community.”

Recent improvements include the renovation of an abandoned courthouse and converting streets from asphalt to stone as well as thinning the streets to install wider sidewalks.

While these advancements are made to improve the lives of Arubans today, tomorrow’s citizens will also benefit, the prime minister argued.
“The commitment of younger generations to sustainability is enormous,” Eman said. “They are inspiring us and creating the opportunity to make changes that will benefit far into the future.”

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Photograph of John Haigh and Aruba Prime Minister Michiel Godfried “Mike” Eman

John Haigh (L), co-faculty director of M-RCBG; and Michiel Godfried "Mike" Eman (R), prime minister, Aruba

“We have five star hotels…I’d like to see five star schools and five star homes for the elderly,” Eman said. “When there’s a gap between economic progress and social progress, you get a disconnect, and the people are the ones who carry all these institutions with their sweat and labor.”

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