World Bank accord: Historic moment for St. Maarten and the Netherlands

By Suzanne Koelega

THE HAGUE/WASHINGTON DC–The signing of the agreement with the World Bank in Washington DC on Monday to manage the St. Maarten Reconstruction Trust Fund was an historic moment for both the island and the Netherlands. The Daily Herald asked Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops what this agreement means for St. Maarten and its people and what projects will come of it.

What exactly took place in Washington on Monday?

“The Netherlands signed the agreement with the World Bank to manage the Trust Fund to reconstruct St. Maarten. The Dutch Government has deposited 470 million euros in this fund for projects that contribute to the practical and economic reconstruction, and a sustainable, hurricane-proof future. As of today, that fund is available, naturally under the conditions that we have agreed upon previously.

“I signed the agreement with the CEO of the World Bank Kristalina Georgieva. The signing of this agreement is a special moment for St. Maarten and the Netherlands. That is why I invited Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin to be present at this special moment.”

What can the St. Maarten people expect after the signing?

“The Trust Fund will become available in tranches now that the signing has taken place. The World Bank will execute projects in St. Maarten, while the St. Maarten Government will also submit projects to the World Bank. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as the St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF) can apply for projects as well. The SMDF, together with the White Yellow Cross (WYC), has already played an important role in the past months.”

When will the first projects start? Isn’t it too late considering the start of the hurricane season on June 1?

“I understand very well that some people are thinking that it is taking a long time. Results are not always visible right away. But we haven’t been idle in the past half-year. After the initial emergency assistance right after Hurricane Irma and the first projects of the Early Recovery phase, which mainly focused on the vulnerable ones in society such as the elderly and needy, the Trust Fund will now come as the third phase. This phase will be the biggest one in size.

“I see that there is still a great need to clean up the island and to get ready for the next hurricane season. The World Bank has already started preparations for the first projects, since speed is vital.

“I have to remark that as a result of the delay in the handling of insurance claims, a number of entrepreneurs have been unable to restart because they haven’t been compensated for their damage as yet.

“I am urging the St. Maarten Government and the NGOs to submit their plans to the Trust Fund. Funds will be released based on these plans. The sooner they do so, the faster the execution can start. The level of speed will also depend on the new St. Maarten Government and how soon it is able to equip the organisation that can start the projects.”

How great is the urgency of the Dutch Government to get started? Are you aware of the urgent situation on the island and the fact that the people have been waiting for months?

“I know that the necessity and urgency are high. I have seen that during the several times that I visited. I was deeply impressed by the destruction, but also by the resilience of the people. I have visited people who lost their home, who were without a roof and I have spoken with entrepreneurs who saw their businesses swept away.

“I am constantly informed of how things are going: through reports of our Representation in Philipsburg, my weekly telephone calls with the Prime Minister and the Governor and from what I read in the media. That is why I did everything possible in the past months to get the Early Recovery projects going and to get the Trust Fund ready, because I see that there is still a whole lot to be done.

“The Netherlands has contributed 55 million euros in the emergency assistance phase in 2017 and another seven million euros for the Early Recovery projects which started right after the emergency assistance in December last year. It was a first step towards the large Trust Fund to assist the people after the hurricane. We are doing this from a sense of commitment within the Kingdom; we feel it is our duty to support St. Maarten.”

What kind of (infrastructural) projects will be financed from the Trust Fund? Schools, airport, landfill, hospital, public facilities?

“That is mainly up to the St. Maarten Government. The objective of the Trust Fund is to, with priority, restore vital infrastructure that was damaged by the hurricane in a sustainable manner.

“The Netherlands has indicated that it wants priority given to projects in the area of waste and water management, economic development and good governance. Waste management is important when considering that again the landfill was on fire. All projects that contribute to these areas and fit within the reconstruction plan can be submitted to the Steering Group of the Trust Fund which will review the plans.”

Are there specific projects that will directly benefit the people? You have already said that the Trust Fund is not sufficiently large to get everyone a new roof and windows.

“The St. Maarten Government, with support of the World Bank, is drafting the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP). This plan serves as the basis to make choices which sectors and projects will be financed from the first tranche of the Trust Fund. The Steering Group, which has become operational with the signing of the agreement with the World Bank, will shortly discuss the NRRP, after which there will be more clarity.”

Two large hotels, Sonesta Maho and Great Bay Beach Resort have already asked to make use of the Trust Fund through low-interest loans. Will their request be considered and is the hotel sector eligible for assistance from the Trust Fund?

“It is hard to say something about that in general terms. The Trust Fund has the objective to contribute to the repair of damage and to restore the economy in a sustainable manner. Hotels may submit a request to (partially) make use of the Trust Fund if there are no other financing options. Project proposals will have to comply with the strict requirements of the World Bank. The Steering Group will see to it that the public funds are used the correct way.”

Which groups, sectors have priority in the reconstruction?

“The objectives in the NRRP explicitly indicate which affairs and groups have priority. Plans in the area of vital infrastructure that aid in getting St. Maarten back on its feet as soon as possible and in a sustainable manner have priority. The projects have to be hurricane-damage related.

“Think of sustainable repairs to homes and tackling the landfill which has been a severe threat to the environment and people’s health, and surely has not been a welcoming sight for visitors. I am surprised that the issue of the landfill has been talked about for years, but that nothing has been done. The landfill is an absolute priority in the people’s interest. Another priority is the tackling of waste-water together with the French side.”

Who decides which projects will be executed?

A Steering Group has been formed within the World Bank, consisting of a member from St. Maarten, one from the Netherlands and a third one from the World Bank. They will see to it that the project proposals are evaluated and that the priority plan and the reconstruction projects are soundly executed.”

What is the role of the Netherlands in the process of executing the projects and what is the role of St. Maarten?

“The St. Maarten Government is responsible for the execution of the reconstruction projects it carries out. The Netherlands is making the funds available. Projects from the Trust Fund can be carried out by St. Maarten, by international organisations, NGOs, by the World Bank or by a combination of parties.

“Via the Steering Group, the Netherlands will see to it that the tax money is well-spent and that the principles of good governance are adhered to. The conditions under which we provide this assistance remain in effect: the establishing of a solid, functioning Integrity Chamber and proper border control.”  

The World Bank has already indicated that a longer period will be needed for the larger infrastructural projects. Is there an end date for the Dutch support?

“The Trust Fund covers a period of seven years. That has to do with the large infrastructural projects that we expect. The reconstruction money destined for the Trust Fund has been secured on the Dutch budget until late 2021.”

Has the project office in St. Maarten already been set up, and does the Netherlands assist with personnel and expertise?

“Currently there is an interim office. The Netherlands has not been asked as yet to provide support.”

How committed are you to St. Maarten’s reconstruction process and how fast do you want to see results that are so important to the people?

“Personally, I feel closely connected to the St. Maarten people. I was deeply moved when I first saw the images of destruction in September and heard the reports of eyewitnesses and victims. In November when I first visited, I could still see the consequences of this hurricane with my own eyes.

“I was proud of our solidarity in the Kingdom. So many came to St. Maarten’s aid. I am set on spending the means that will become available now in a way that benefits all residents. That requires a joint effort of all involved.

“I hope that the St. Maarten Government will start with the necessary projects as soon as possible.”

Source: The Daily Herald