The idea of United St. Maarten Party (US Party) to use still-unallocated means from the Trust Fund monies to fix the prison (see related story) is not new but perhaps worth revisiting. After all, the Dutch Second Chamber of Parliament and others including the Law Enforcement Council, the Plans of Approach Progress Committee, judges and the St. Maarten Bar Association have repeatedly expressed serious concern about the situation in the penitentiary at Point Blanche.
Not long after Hurricane Irma struck on September 6, 2017, State Secretary of Home Affairs Raymond Knops expressed that he did not think disaster recovery funds from the Netherlands should be used to build a prison on the island. He was probably alluding to a wrong message this might send, which is to some extent understandable.
However, the stark reality is that St. Maarten simply lacks the funds to quickly, effectively and comprehensively (re)construct the prison alone, especially with the current unprecedented coronavirus-related crisis. Besides, if money has been made available and there is no clear plan yet for at least part of that amount more than three years later, why not address this problem that has become such a burning issue not just within the kingdom but also internationally, even ending up at the European Court of Human Rights, which held the Netherlands responsible.
As the two local opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) Claudius Buncamper and Akeem Arrindell point out, while not every shortcoming at Pointe Blanche was caused by Irma, the same can be said about the dump in which a total of US $60 million is reportedly being invested from the Dutch-sponsored fund administered by the World Bank. If the intention is to “build back better” as stated, the lack of adequate detention capacity is certainly an area that could be considered.
The proposal seems timely with a meeting of the Second Chamber’s Kingdom Relations Committee originally scheduled for November 5 now to take place on December 8. Politicians on both sides of the aisle in The Hague have been calling for action, but where it regards involvement of the Trust Fund, the key to a solution may well lie in their very own hands.