State Secretary Raymond Knops (centre) during a debate with the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations on Thursday. At right is Committee Chairman Jan Paternotte and at left Kingdom Relations Director at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Dirk-Jan Bonnet. (Suzanne Koelega photo)
THE HAGUE–Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops will be in St. Maarten on Tuesday and Wednesday to take stock of the progress being made in the reconstruction projects.
According to a Dutch government press release, Knops’ visit to St. Maarten focuses on the concrete results that have been booked so far in the reconstruction financed through the Trust Fund managed by the World Bank on behalf of the Netherlands.
“He wants to see with his own eyes how the reconstruction is progressing. He will visit a number of reconstruction projects that are being carried with Dutch funding, including the repairing of homes. He will visit smaller and larger housing projects and speak with tenants and contractors,” it was stated in the release.
Knops will also speak with entrepreneurs who have made a new start with the assistance of micro credits, as well as with people who have secured a new job after completing their schooling in the construction or hospitality sector.
Knops will arrive in St. Maarten together with State Secretary of Social Affairs and Labour Tamara van Ark, who will continue on to Saba. Both state secretaries will be in St. Eustatius on Thursday for a meeting with representatives of the governments of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. (See related article.)
During a debate with the Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday morning, Knops elaborated a bit on his visit to St. Maarten and provided some information on the status of the reconstruction and his talks with the World Bank.
Responding to a question from Member of the Second Chamber Antje Diertens of the Democratic Party D66 about making use of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the reconstruction period, Knops said he too found these organisations important.
“I want the NGOs to have a bigger role. They are doing very good work. I will be visiting a number of their projects when I’m in St. Maarten next week,” said Knops, adding that he had specifically mentioned the NGOs in the last meeting with the World Bank in Washington DC late April.
Knops said he had made clear during that meeting with the World Bank that the Dutch government wants more speed in the execution of the reconstruction projects. He said that he too heard the complaints that things were moving too slowly and that there was too much bureaucracy holding up the process. On the other hand, correct spending of the Dutch taxpayers’ money, more than half a billion euros, was also very important, he added.
Member of Parliament (MP) André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party suggested that the delay was not due only to lengthy, complex World Bank procedures, but that the St. Maarten government was also to blame. “The sense of urgency from the side of St. Maarten wasn’t very big,” he said.
Knops agreed that St. Maarten could have moved more rapidly, but he also noted that the absorption capacity was limited, and that therefore the Dutch government had made capacity available to help with the National Recovery Bureau and with complex matters such as the garbage dump.
The dump remained a big challenge that could not be solved quickly, Knops said. Responding to a question of MP Nevin Özütok of the green left party GroenLinks about whether 50 million euros was sufficient to solve the dump situation in a sustainable manner, he said that possibly more funding would be needed. “Time will tell.”
Knops referred to the report of the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM which measured the air quality around the landfill for two weeks at the beginning of 2019. No or hardly any harmful substances were measured. This was due to the fact that during the measurement period there were no open fires at the landfill. The RIVM was unable to assess the potential health risks of substances released in the event of an open fire.
Knops said he was “not happy” with the results of the study. “I have visited the dump, and I can tell you that my lungs stung from the vapours. There is very unhealthy stuff underground. It is a major health concern that has been ongoing for many years. We will continue to work together to solve this.”
MP Machiel de Graaf of the Party for Freedom PVV made a case for a bigger role of Dutch companies in the execution of reconstruction projects. He said that there was much interest of the Dutch private sector in taking part in the projects, but that so far, the role of Dutch companies was limited due to the tendering procedures.
De Graaf asked Knops to give preference to Dutch companies in the tendering of the reconstruction projects. “This is not only good for Dutch companies, but also for the people in St. Maarten because it will speed up the projects and provide the necessary expertise,” he said.
Knops said that while he had informed the World Bank from the onset that the Dutch private sector should be able to play a role in the reconstruction, it would not be correct to give the Dutch private sector preference, because St. Maarten companies should have a chance.
According to Knops, it is important to have a “level playing field” for all companies. “There is no ‘Netherlands First’ policy. Giving preference to Dutch companies doesn’t fit in the agreements that we have with the World Bank and St. Maarten.”
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/88504-knops-to-visit-to-check-reconstruction-projects