photo: Tim van Dijk

PHILIPSBURG – According to the average joe on Sint Maarten the rebuilding efforts are taking too long. But a lot has been achieved in one and a half years, said Axel Trostenburg, the World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, during his visit to the island.

More than half of the 550 million euros* allocated by the Dutch government as an emergency fund has already been spent or reserved for projects. There’s still 253 million in the fund to rebuild the island after the damage that was caused by hurricane Irma in 2017. Most of the money is in a fund (Sint Maarten Recovery and Resilience Trustfund) and is being managed by the governments of the Netherlands, Sint Maarten, and the World Bank.

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By Tim van Dijk

One of the big misconceptions about the fund is immediately repudiated by Trostenburg: “The World Bank does not choose the projects, the government does that. The World Bank only checks these proposals and ensures that everything is done by the book, from the public tender to the implementation.” During his time on Sint Maarten he visited a program which trains unemployed individuals.

“Around 1000 people are currently being trained there. Mostly women who are unemployed and without an income. In total we want 1800 people to follow the training.”

Impact the flow of funds
Marcel Gumbs, a member of the steering committee of the recovery fund representing Sint Maarten, receives questions from the island’s inhabitants on a weekly basis because they know that he can impact the flow of funds. “I’m not the only one who decides that. There are three members in the steering committee and the government also keeps a close eye on us.”

Mister Gumbs is shocked to hear about the group of elderly people in Phillipsburg’s Downstreet, who are still waiting on help. “This is the first I’m hearing of this but I’ll be taking a look at it on Monday. We are not responsible for the actions of the Red Cross. But we will be talking to them about this.”

During the visit of the delegation from the World Bank, a lot of issues remained unclear. One of which is how to deal with the dump, which causes problems on a daily basis. The 50 million euros reserved for this project does not seem to be enough to truly take care of the problem. But neither Trotsenburg nor prime minister Leona Marlin-Romeo could give any clarity on this.

‘We can not repair all of the houses
– Prime minister Leona Marlin-Romeo

The prime minster reacted sharply after the media outlets asked why a lot of houses still hadn’t been repaired: “We can’t repair all of the houses, I repeat: we can not repair all of the houses.” Marlin-Romeo reminded everyone that homeowners have a responsibility and should insure themselves against damage.

Land owners abroad
There are also land owners who have built four to five houses on their properties without the appropriate planning permissions. They let these houses out to local people while they themselves live abroad. Uninsured, they ask for funds to repair these house, but that is not about to happen, so says the prime minister.

*The Netherlands pledged 470 million euros to the World Bank fund. At current exchange rates that amounts to 550 million dollars. The total amount the Netherlands pledged to Sint Maarten amounts to 550 million euros. The amount not in the fund, was spent on amongst other things disaster relief immediately following Irma.