By Suzanne Koelega
THE HAGUE–Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops welcomes the news that the World Bank is releasing the first grant of US $55 million for St. Maarten’s reconstruction after Hurricane Irma. He is confident that things will get moving
The World Bank announced in a press release on Thursday that the first grant of US $55 million from the St. Maarten Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Trust Fund will be released. Is that hopeful news after many months?
“This release is in accordance with the planning and that means that after the early recovery funds, the first tranche is becoming available to build the shelter capacity, and the disaster management, and to repair roofs. These are things that are most urgent, and they were agreed upon by the St. Maarten government, the Dutch government and the World Bank. I am very happy that things are now moving and that visible improvements will be made. At the same time, it is important that we work on an inventory of the shelter capacity, that we learn about the disaster that Hurricane Irma caused, the things that went well and the things that went wrong, and how we can improve the cooperation between the St. Maarten government, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK and Defence. I am confident that things will work out.”
Do you agree that it has taken a long time before this first grant became available? There is a large gap between the period of emergency assistance and this first substantial contribution. People in St. Maarten feel that it has been a long time.
“I have said before that this delay was mainly caused by the fact that after the Dutch government decided in November to make 550 million euros available for St. Maarten, it took until January before an agreement was reached with the St. Maarten government. Two months were wasted, that could not be undone. We have bridged that through the 7 million euros for the Early Recovery projects and after that everything went as planned. I can understand that people want to see quicker results. A lot of work needs to be done. This requires quite some consideration to make sure that things are done well. The White and Yellow Cross (WYC) and the St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF) have done a lot of good work to repair homes and train people with the Early Recovery funds. They deserve a big compliment for that. They bridged the phase in which we were still negotiating with the World Bank. Things are now moving with the World Bank. The Steering Group meeting went well, and I understood that Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin was very positive. I am positive too. But I will keep on top of things to make sure that tempo is kept, because it is important, to show people that things are happening.”
Some say that the delay was due to the structure of the World Bank, a large and sluggish organisation and the fact that the St. Maarten Programme Bureau was not fully established. Can you confirm that?
“Yes, the World Bank is a large organisation, but one should not forget that if we had not done this through the World Bank, the Dutch government would have had to hire people to do the job. An operation of this size requires a good preparation, and that needs to be done based on plans and making the right choices. A complex operation like always this takes time, whether you do it through the World Bank or you do it yourself. And yes, it is correct that the capacity of the St. Maarten government is limited. It is not set up to handle a mega-project like this, which means that things are not going fast. That is why the St. Maarten government requested the Dutch government to make certain expertise available. On Thursday, I approved to grant part of this request. It concerns professionals that are lacking at the St. Maarten government, ranging from physical development and the programme bureau to fiscal expertise and waste management.”
How many persons are we talking about? A handful, a dozen?
“No, it doesn’t involve dozens of persons. It concerns some ten persons that we are making available for key positions. These persons will work there on the specific request of the St. Maarten government.
That request has to come from St. Maarten?
“Certainly, because it concerns a matter of country St. Maarten. We are not placing Dutch civil servants in other countries just like that. We are making these persons available even though there is no emergency, but the consequences of the disaster are still visible and tangible. We want to help prevent a new disaster situation.”
Some people in St. Maarten say that the Netherlands is taking over. Others expect more help from the Netherlands. What is your response to that?
“We are definitely not taking over. St. Maarten is a sovereign country. But we do see that St. Maarten cannot do this on its own in certain areas. And if St. Maarten asks us for assistance, we are willing to seriously look into that. But it starts with a request from St. Maarten. We also have to see what we can do, because it is not a matter of simply pulling some civil servants out of a hat. These people also have work to do in the Netherlands.”
The Dutch National Police is still at work in St. Maarten, to the delight of many on the island. Their assistance is slated to cease within short. Is there a possibility that the officers will stay?
“I am discussing this matter with my colleague, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhaus and I will also speak with the authorities in St. Maarten about this. In the end this is something that St. Maarten will have to take over. Each month that we have people working in St. Maarten is deducted from the reconstruction budget, so I want to keep it as limited as possible. It is important that together with the Netherlands a programme is drafted so this task can be transferred back to St. Maarten. The sooner the better, because fact is that police, law enforcement, is a national task in which the Netherlands temporarily provides assistance.”
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/78585-knops-positive-about-progress-reconstruction