PHILIPSBURG–Dutch caretaker Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk said whatever financial aid the Netherlands provides to St. Maarten to assist in the post-Hurricane Irma rebuilding efforts will have to end up in the right place and be used in a proper fashion.
Speaking to reporters after touring the reverse osmosis unit that provides drinking water to the community at the St. Maarten Festival Village on Monday, Plasterk said the provision of aid is not something that will happen overnight.
“It is not a single-moment decision. It’s a process to get a picture of what is needed to build back and to build a better St. Maarten. We need to assess what damage there is. There is also an issue of what insurance will do to help repair the damage and then I am sure we will also need to consider plans – where you will not just build back the way it was, but look at the future and improving while building,” he said.
“So we will need to get plans and I will need to discuss and make sure that my people, in the days to follow, will discuss with the Government of St. Maarten the appropriate conditions under which the Netherlands will also provide hurricane funds to support the rebuilding activity.”
Asked whether someone from the Netherlands will be appointed to supervise that whole process he responded: “We will need to find a precise legal format which is sort of issue number two, but what is very clear is that I don’t think rebuilding St. Maarten can be done without aid, so we need to participate in that.
“It’s also very clear that we will not just open a bank account and transfer money. So we will need to do that and make sure that all of the money ends up in the right place and is used in a proper fashion to rebuild a better St. Maarten.”
Plasterk said it is premature at this stage to indicate what amount of funds the Netherlands is willing to provide to St. Maarten to assist in the rebuilding effort. “I don’t think it’s right to do that now, because we are right in the middle of assessing what the damage is and what needs to be done to build back a better St. Maarten. If you were to do that now it will be too early.”
Plasterk was happy to see that fresh drinking water has been made available to residents of St. Maarten via the reverse osmosis unit located at the St. Maarten Festival Village, as this was one of the desires residents expressed when he visited the country with King Willem-Alexander two weeks ago.
“Having any life at all begins with good drinking water and it was a serious concern that after the hurricane disaster there would be a second disaster if hygiene was lacking, if people drink contaminated water,” he said. “Then in a couple of weeks from now we might be in a really bad situation, so it’s crucial that there is sufficient drinking water for people.
As I understand, the company itself [utilities company GEBE – Ed.] is already building up the regular drinking water facility, but meanwhile over the last couple of weeks we have been very happy to see people have enough drinking water.
“When I was here two weeks ago in the company of the King, we drove through Middle Region and other regions and people shouted to us ‘water, water, drinking water.’ So it’s crucial the first concern for people is to have enough healthy, good drinking water and I am very glad that the company has provided that here today.”
Plasterk said he had noticed a lot of improvements in the cleaning up of debris in the country since his last visit.
“I was here four weeks ago before the hurricane and then all was hunky-dory and then I was here two weeks ago right after the hurricane and can see two things: one is that at the surface, a lot of the immediate damage seems to have cleared up. So fortunately, you can see garbage piles where everything is being collected, taken out of the neighbourhoods, which is good. Underneath that obviously there is a lot of damage, which will take months and years to really build back,” he said.
Plasterk said he is in the country to witness the arrival of mega-vessel Karel Doorman, which arrived in the country over the weekend with relief aid for St. Maarten, and to “look at the future and see how within the Kingdom we can all work together to help rebuild a better St. Maarten for the people.”