Hurricane recovery: St. Maarten in the driver’s seat

PHILIPSBURG – “Because St. Maarten is in the driver’s seat it is important that the government organizes itself well to be able to carry that responsibility.” Nico Schoof, head of the civil mission that coordinates recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma, wants to put that statement out there loud and clear.

The Netherlands is involved – it made €550 million available for the reconstruction of the island – and the World Bank is going to be involved, but the government of St. Maarten calls the shots. During a two-day meeting with representatives of the government and the World Bank it became clear that parties are comfortable with each other.

Schoof, who suspended his activities as the chairman of the Progress Committee to head the civil mission for the next couple of months (“By March I’ll be gone”) is eager to clear up a few misunderstandings. The involvement of the World Bank is not terribly expensive, he says, and the involvement of the World Bank is not just about money.

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“Of course, these people have to be paid, but they take a normal percentage and it is not a percentage of the €550 million the Netherlands has made available to St. Maarten. It is not 15 percent of the recovery fund as some stories suggest, absolutely not. It is a normal percentage. I trust that the World Bank will be an excellent partner for St. Maarten.”

The organization for the reconstruction of St. Maarten is embedded in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations. Hans Leijtens is the Director-General Reconstruction St. Maarten. Immediately after the passing of Hurricane Irma on September 6 of last year, Erwin Arkenbout was on the island to head the civil mission for the emergency assistance phase.

Now the organization is moving to a structural phase that involves the World Bank. As soon as the organization with the World Bank is in place. Schoof’s term as head of the civil mission will come to an end, probably by March of this year.

A representative from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations will come for a period of two years to St. Maarten. She will be added to the Dutch Representation in St. Maarten, headed by Chris Johnson.

The largest part of the €550 million for the recovery fund will be deposited in a trust fund at the World Bank. Not in one go, but in tranches, Schoof says. The World Bank will manage this trust fund and the Netherlands and St. Maarten will supervise it. Part of the money has already been earmarked for budget support; the Netherlands will arrange this directly with St. Maarten.

Who will do what is still a work in progress. “We will settle all that in the next couple of weeks,” Schoof says.

Next week three representatives from the World Bank will arrive in St. Maarten, after St. Maarten extended an invitation to the bank last Monday.

How the money from the recovery fund will be spent is still under discussion. The first step for the World Bank representatives is to merge the National Recovery Plan and the ECLAC report into one document and to add to information to it as deemed necessary.

“But St. Maarten remains responsible for the reconstruction, but also for the National Recovery Plan that it puts together with the assistance of the World Bank,” Schoof emphasizes. “Everything that is going to happen has to be supported by St. Maarten. The government will have to make policy choices and the World Bank will execute.”

That St. Maarten remains in charge of its own recovery also appears from the way the recovery funds will be spent. Says Schoof: “Between 85 and 90 percent is recipient executed. The World Bank will determine how to use the remaining 10 to 15 percent; that money could for instance be spent on training civil servants.”

The 550 million is “a gigantic amount,” Schoof says. “Strengthening of border control and the Integrity Chamber will be financed from these funds. Most of the money will become available to the island, but not just in the form of bricks and mortar. However, it is not up to the Netherlands to set priorities; St. Maarten will do that. If the government for instance wants projects for the airport or the port, then that is what is gong to happen. The money is also meant as an invitation to think about a better St. Maarten and to add substance to the slogan Building Back Better – and not just in bricks.”

The largest problems St. Maarten is facing are twofold, Schoof notes: “Housing and employment. The priorities must become clear in the unified National Recovery Plan, but many things are happening already through a number of non-governmental organizations like the white and yellow cross, Qredits and the UNDP. I have seen the resilience of people to get going in these difficult circumstances. A lot still has to be done but it is already very well possible to have a good time here again.”

The Trinidad and Tobago office of UNDP, the United Nations Development Program, has opened a vacancy for a recovery project manager for the implementation of a $2.6 million six-month project that focuses on the UNDP’s emergency employment methodology. The deadline for applications was last Wednesday, January 10.

The intention is for this recovery project manager “to create labor intensive programs as a first step towards creating economic activities that will benefit the most vulnerable groups of the population,” the vacancy notice on the UNDP-website states. “The project will ensure that 500 households have their dwellings repaired and that fifty key community infrastructure are repaired, whilst engaging a total of 100 people in labor-intensive programs for temporary livelihoods.”

Schoof considers the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Irma not only as a disaster, but also as an opportunity. “This is a unique chance for St. Maarten to do things that otherwise would not have been possible. The hospitality industry now has the opportunity to upgrade. There are enough inspiring examples.”

Getting everything in place will cost time and with St. Maarten, Schoof realizes that there are still needs that require immediate assistance. There are already early recovery projects underway, financed by the Netherlands. “I am not saying that this is going to happen, but there is also a possibility for a second wave of early recovery projects that will be initiated by St. Maarten and managed by the World Bank.”

Photo caption: Head of the civil mission in St. Maarten Nico Schoof. Photo Hilbert Haar.

 

Source: StMaartenNews http://stmaartennews.com/government/hurricane-recovery-st-maarten-drivers-seat/

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