THE HAGUE–It was a full house at the St. Maarten reconstruction informative event for Dutch companies in The Hague on Friday. At least 200 persons, mostly representing the construction sector and consultancy firms, came to hear what the World Bank, St. Maarten authorities and the Dutch government had to say and to explore shared opportunities.
Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops gave the opening remarks for the event, which was organised by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency RVO.nl of the Dutch government, and The Netherlands in Business, an organisation that facilitates business opportunities abroad.
Knops called on the Dutch private sector to make their know-how and expertise available for St. Maarten’s reconstruction and to the World Bank. The involvement of Dutch enterprises should not only be based on a business perspective, but also from a commitment to assist, he said. “That latter part is also very important. There is a lot that needs to be done and St. Maarten cannot do it alone. That is why your input is important. Let us do this in unified strength.”
He explained that there were three partners in the execution of the St. Maarten Trust Fund for which the Dutch government has reserved 470 million euros: the Netherlands, St. Maarten and the World Bank. He said the main goal was to make St. Maarten stronger and better prepared for future hurricanes.
St. Maarten Minister Plenipotentiary Jorien Wuite said she was surprised by the high turnout of the Dutch private sector and was happy to note that a considerable number of St. Maarteners were present to give their two cents’ worth. “I am happy to see that there is so much interest. It is for a good cause. This is a true reminder of the strong ties and partnerships that exist in the Kingdom,” she said.
Wuite gave a short overview of the St. Maarten National Reconstruction and Resilience Plan (NRRP) and what was needed to get the island back on track. Housing, debris, solid waste management and sewage treatment are among the greatest needs.
St. Maarten sustained about US $2.3 billion in damage. Some 15 per cent or $340 million of that damage was covered by the insurance companies, while the Netherlands has made 550 million euros available. This means that there is still a substantial gap. She commended the St. Maarten community for its great input in the reconstruction.
In the process of reconstruction there is a need for procurement work, goods, consulting services and non-consulting services. The work requires a public-private partnership. St. Maarten has local capacity, know-how and equipment, but some assistance will have to come from abroad. Wuite called on the audience to “create opportunities in adversity.”
World Bank Programme and Trust Fund Manager Michelle Keane explained that while the World Bank was one of the partners in the reconstruction, it was actually the St. Maarten government that decided on the priorities and implemented the projects.
Keane said she understood some of the impatience about the pace. “After a hurricane there is a need for speed, people need a roof back over their head, public utilities need to be repaired. But it also needs to be done right. While there are many urgent needs, we should not be rebuilding the same risks,” she said, making a case for sustainable solutions.
She mentioned a number of projects that have already been started or that are in preparation, including the home repair programme, fixing of utilities and infrastructure, skills-training for local workers, repairs to St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) and the construction of a new hospital.
Debris management is a very urgent issue. There is also the reconstruction of the airport and the supporting of local enterprises through loans. Work is in progress on a long-term approach to the handling of solid waste. Keane said that while the input of the local private sector was important, it was “necessary and inevitable” to contract outside expertise and capacity.
NL in Business Managing Director Edo Offerhaus said he strongly believed in public-private partnerships and his organisation was there to assist the entrepreneurs who showed an interest in working with St. Maarten.
RVO.nl Director International Tjerk Opmeer said Dutch companies have a strong record of resilience and innovation. He said his team was ready to assist. “This event is just a start. It will be a long journey.”
After the break-out sessions on waste management, infrastructure, public utilities and the World Bank activities in the Caribbean, there was a panel discussion. One of the three panellists was St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry Director Anastacio Baker. He spoke of a “win-win situation for everyone” and the opportunities for the private sector outside the Trust Fund. “There are so many opportunities for us to work together. We are open to work with everyone and to form partnerships,” said Baker.
St. Maartener John Sandiford closed off Friday’s well-attended event with a special announcement: the SMILE conference in St. Maarten on November 2 and 3. SMILE stands for St. Maarten Innovation Initiatives Industries Link-up Event, and is organised with the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association SHTA.
SMILE, which will be held at the University of St. Martin (USM), will feature presentations focused on the future of St. Maarten’s business, outlooks on local industries and economic opportunities, innovations from the Caribbean and beyond, information about the World Bank tenders and how to participate, and workshops to improve business operations and competitiveness.
Sandiford used the opportunity to invite the participants at Friday’s event to come to St. Maarten for SMILE. “If you want to do business locally, you should be present.”