THE HAGUE–The St. Maarten Recovery Trust Fund will not be used for the construction of a new, fancy Parliament building, Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops assured the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Monday.
Responding to written questions submitted by Member of the Second Chamber Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP), Knops ruled out that funds the Dutch government made available for St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma devastated the island in September 2017 could be used for extravagant projects that would not benefit the country’s reconstruction.
Van Raak sent a number of questions to Knops late January after media reports that St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) Member of the St. Maarten Parliament Claude “Chacho” Peterson had suggested during a meeting that the World Bank should be approached to fund the proposal for a US $145 million bullet-proof-glass “salt crystal” new Parliament building.
Afterwards, Peterson informed the media that his proposal had been misunderstood and that his statements during the meeting in question had been sarcastic.
Knops explained that the Steering Group is in charge of decision-making on the financing of programmes and projects from the Trust Fund managed by the World Bank.
“The Netherlands will only approve the financing of projects that, where necessary, contribute to St. Maarten’s reconstruction aimed at, among other things, the recovery and strengthening of the economy, the social and physical infrastructure and the government administration,” he stated.
“Futuristic prestige projects by definition are not suited for any contribution from the Trust Fund. Besides that, St. Maarten has not included a new Parliament building in its National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which the Trust Fund Steering Group uses as the basis for the programming.”
He also stated that, according to his information, the St. Maarten Parliament was not handling a proposal of this nature.
Knops agreed with Van Raak’s view that funds for St. Maarten’s reconstruction were meant to repair the infrastructure, people’s homes and to alleviate poverty. “I share the view that the recovery funds of the Dutch taxpayer are meant for a sustainable reconstruction of the Country St. Maarten. This has to take place in an effective and correct manner,” Knops stated.
Van Raak also asked Knops whether he shared his astonishment that Members of Parliament (MPs) of St. Maarten, the smallest country in the Kingdom, earned the highest salaries in the Kingdom. Van Raak further inquired what had happened with the intention to lower the salaries of the St. Maarten MPs.
Knops shared Van Raak’s thoughts on this matter, saying that in the past year he had regularly sought attention for the fact that everyone needed to contribute to keep the government finances in check, considering the difficult situation that St. Maarten faces since the hurricane. “I have pointed out the exemplary function the members of the Council of Ministers and the MPs have regarding their salary,” he said.
Knops stated that the St. Maarten Minister of Finance had promised him in June 2018 that he would not avoid the issue and that measures would be taken. The need to cut the salaries was also confirmed in a research report of the St. Maarten Audit Chamber dated September 2018, titled “The redundancy pay of politicians.”
According to Knops, this report contains an overview of the remuneration of ministers and MPs in the Kingdom which shows that ministers and MPs of St. Maarten receive a substantially higher salary than their colleagues in Aruba and Curaçao.
He confirmed that the St. Maarten ministers have taken a 10 per cent voluntary pay cut per January 1.
“The MPs were asked to take a similar decision, but so far that has not happened,” stated Knops, who announced that he has asked the Committee for Financial Supervision CFT to inform him on this subject in connection with future budget support for the St. Maarten government.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/85523-no-recovery-funds-for-parliament-building