PHILIPSBURG – I have now served as your minister of education, culture, youth and sport for two weeks and two days. These two weeks have been challenging as many things have been happening simultaneously. The primary task of this interim Romeo-Marlin cabinet is to bring St. Maarten through these critical months ahead as we recover from one devastating hurricane season and prepare as a nation to face the seasons ahead. As I have indicated before, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport has been significantly hit in terms of damages to our infrastructure. I do not believe there has been one school, cultural or sporting facility that has escaped unscathed. Damages are summarized in the MRP plan to be approximately 40-60 million US dollars. I say this not to preach doom and gloom but to indicate the enormous task ahead.
A first expectation that I have is the availability of the insurance claim disbursement, that is taking too long and I fear that it is nowhere near enough with anticipated under insurance of the government insurance policy which include the schools, sport facilities and cultural facilities such as the library. I have emphasized the importance to this matter with my colleague ministers and we look forward to complete an advice to the Council of Ministers (COM) which remained lingering since October/ November last year. This advice should enforce the decision by COM to establish a core group to which I would like to add a member representing Education, Sport and Culture as this will help to represent the interest of schools and other organizations. The advise also clarifies how a first advance of 1 million US Dollars prior to the settlement of the claim should be made. Nagico emphasized that this and possibley more advances can and should go to reconstruction of critical priorities such as the schools. The core group will be invited back to COM to discuss progress and these decisions for the first advance.
I am reminded by families and sport organizations that athletes and children are in dire need of recreational activities and re start of sport programs and training. I therefor urged the completion and signed off the first of 2 advises for repairs of various sport facilities such as Melford Hazel and the community basketball courts. These payments will be paid out of the emergency budget the government has available and this will be made through an incidental subsidy to the National Sport Institute (NSI). A meeting with NSI has also been scheduled to discuss their task in the supervision and maintenance of the government owned sport facilities. I care to also include the partnership with the sport department and the NSI to ensure we expand on the organization of sport programs in the months ahead.
The COM ensured and reiterated the importance of the approval of the budget 2018 and once the budget 2018 will be critically reviewed and debated in parliament, I hope that proposed capital expenditures provides another avenue to invest for the repairs and reconstruction we are unable to receive via our insurance. The consultations has to be done in close partnership as this also relates to the third and of course most talked about option of the Dutch funding made available through the World Bank. The Ministry has been working tirelessly to ensure that we meet the requirements set by the World Bank while taking care of our day to day responsibilities. I care to commend the Ministry for the clear advancement of the MRP and the preparation of project plans. The Ministry has held several meetings with World Bank representatives and DBB yesterday and I have personally met with them to indicate that this Ministry in particular needs assistance immediately as it is one of the hardest hit. As minister I have also requested a separate chapter for education in the National Recovery Plan and to ensure that sport, youth and culture will be seen as cross cutting themes throughout SXM NRP.
The Ministry has already submitted projects for funding review; projects such as the temporary re-location of the library, the monument restoration project, risk preparedness and training programs and the renovation of schools are examples just to highlight a few. We have received positive feedback, while they emphasized that we have to submit projects that really focus on recovery and not on development and we are hopeful that the Netherlands and the World bank will indeed be supportive and favorable of additional advances to the 550 million euro as we all know that repairs of schools need to be prepared and executed with the relevant requirements such as a Terms Of Reference, a bidding process and further quality. It is imperative that schools are fixed, that our sporting facilities are back in proper shape so that our athletes can continue to train for local, regional and international competitions. Our monuments and cultural institutions help us to connect and celebrate our national identity and they must be fully restored. It is very important that we continue to not only move towards a sense of normalcy after Hurricane Irma but to totally ensure that we are prepared for the next hurricane season.
On a positive note however, I have been able to have several successful meetings with key stakeholders in the ECYS ministry; the University of St. Martin, Charlotte Brookson Academy, St. Maarten Academy and the Youth Brigade among others. This morning, I had a very fruitful and constructive meeting with the President of the Windward Island Teacher’s Union, relating to some of the concerns teachers have expressed to the Union. Matters relating to extended hours, vacation days in the summer, fatigue and compensation. I am happy to inform that we have good sound constructive agreements for the way forward addressing these matters and I will inform further of the outcome and agreements made.