photo: Hilbert Haar

PHILIPSBURG – Prime Minister Mark Rutte praised St. Maarten’s Prime Minister Leona Marlin-Romeo extensively during his visit to the island on Monday. “I hope that she stays on in the next government,” Rutte said, adding that he had every confidence in her.

Rutte repeated this remark several times on Monday and even suggested that her appointment to the top job in the new government is already a done deal. Rutte’s appreciation for Marlin-Romeo is an indication for the strongly improved relationship between Philipsburg and The Hague. It was seriously damaged after the previous government of Prime Minister William Marlin balked when the kingdom attached conditions to financial assistance for the island’s recovery.

Everything has not been forgotten and forgiven – there is still a certain level of mistrust according to Rutte – but the strengthened border control and the establishment of the Integrity Chamber ‘give sufficient confidence that things will go better in the future’.

State secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) accompanied Rutte during his visit. They met with Governor Holiday, visited the facilities of the White and Yellow Cross and made, together with the President of the French side of the island, Daniel Gibbs, a boat tour over the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

Rutte justified the conditions the kingdom imposed on St. Maarten: “You cannot explain to Dutch tax payers that you are going to invest half a billion euros in this island without measures to strengthen border control and to fight corruption.”

Rutte said that St. Maarten should not count on budget-support for 2018, but that the kingdom is willing to look at liquidity support. With a gap in the 2018 budget of almost 200 million guilders, the government threatens to run completely out of money towards the end of the year.