THE HAGUE – The fact that the rebuilding efforts on Sint Maarten are taking so long is due to local politicians themselves. That is the reply of minister Raymond Knops to questions posed by Parliament.
Parliament is concerned about the state of repairs of roofs and houses, the prison, and the airport on the island that was ravaged by hurricane Irma in 2017. The World Bank, which administers a rebuilding fund on behalf of the Netherlands, has received a lot of criticism from both Sint Maarten and Parliament, but Knops points squarely towards local politicians on Sint Maarten.
He notes that the World Bank can’t open a branch on the island because the local permits haven’t been granted. A branch on the island would facilitate the work of aid organizations on Sint Maarten. Currently all applications are handled through Washington.
‘Only ten percent of the roofs have been repaired’
Knops dismisses the criticism of the Ombudsman for Sint Maarten. She states that after two years, only ten percent of the houses on the island have been repaired.
“That doesn’t seem to be the case according to the report published by the same Ombudsman and I can’t confirm those numbers”, says Knops. The minister says that he has seen progress with his own two eyes. “Every time I visit the island, I visit those projects.”
According to the Dutch government nearly 1000 homes have been repaired. Another 500 have to be repaired next year. “It’s taking long”, admits Knops. “But our capabilities are also limited.”
‘Airport an example of how not do it’
The reparation of the airport on Sint Maarten has been a pain in the Netherlands side. It took one and a half years for Sint Maarten to accept the help that the Netherlands was offering.
Local politicians originally did not want to accept a ready-to-go plan for the repair of the airport at a cost of 100 million dollars, fifty percent of which would’ve been gifted by the Netherlands. Local Parliamentarians wanted to make use of different financing with higher interest rates.
“Exceptionally frustrating and shameful”, according to Knops. “There were a lot of people who were extremely effective at delaying that project. That was not the World Bank’s fault and not the Netherland’s fault.”
Whether or not Knops should’ve pressured them more? “We sent that message”, says the minister. “I can’t make decisions for the government of Sint Maarten. They really have to do that themselves.”
Other projects also delayed
The ninth cabinet in ten years’ time has fallen on Sint Maarten. The political instability may cause further delays, Knops thinks. One such delay is the establishment of the Integrity Chamber Sint Maarten whose goal is to fight corruption. Both the Netherlands and Sint Maarten have to appoint a member but the island hasn’t done so yet.
The Pointe Blanche prison is another headache for both Knops and Parliament. Recently the ministry of Defense had to assist Sint Maarten because the prisoners went on strike to protest the deplorable conditions within the prison.
Acute cell shortage
Chief prosecuter for Sint Maarten Mirjam Mol sounded the alarm in October ofthis year regarding the acute cell shortage in Sint Maarten’s prison. Want to know more? Read about it here.
The Netherlands ensured the delivery of several container cells to the island, but those have yet to be installed on the island. “So they can’t be used”, says Knops. “There are people being trained, but progress is extremely slow.”