Think again

Think again

Dutch State Secretary Alexandra van Huffelen was scheduled to debate the reconstruction of St. Maarten following its devastation by September 2017 Hurricane Irma with the Second Chamber of Parliament’s Kingdom Relations Committee in The Hague today, Thursday (see related stories).

The effort back then was spearheaded by her predecessor Raymond Knops, who apart from offering short-term loans to keep the public sector afloat came up with a Trust Fund managed by the World Bank under guidance of a Steering Group.

Many have since criticised his approach, arguing – among other things – that more than half a billion US dollars in grants made available via this route was not sufficiently helping the people and was reaching them too slowly. According to the Trust Fund’s 2022 annual report there were 10 projects in execution totalling US $100.2 million, of which several near done.

One example is up to now restoring 445 of 551 identified damaged homes, including 269 social housing units. Thousands more had obviously been left in disrepair by the monster-storm, but criteria were understandably set regarding ownership, residential use, etc., while the Red Cross and White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation (WYCCF) also fixed mainly roofs of a number of houses.

Although only three – the most urgent cases – schools were so far rebuilt, tendering for the other 13 has been completed with work expected to start in August. The administrative processes and strict procurement rules of the World Bank played a role in it taking this long.

Generally, one can conclude that things took more time than expected also with the construction of a new hospital and rebuilding the airport terminal, for different reasons including impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and war in eastern Europe. Hence the decision to extend the funding agreement by 36 months when it ran out in June last year.

That does imply there is something to look forward to, including three projects in preparation totalling US $38 million in the fields of social housing ($20 million), mental health ($8 million) and waste management ($110 million). To claim that these are not priority areas for St. Maarten would be downright ludicrous.

In addition, the Enterprise Support Project (EPS) has disbursed less than half of its US $35 million budget, leaving the possibility to financially assist more small- and medium-size businesses. All in all, it’s hardly been perfect, but those whom mainly political rhetoric led to believe the Trust Fund meant nothing for inhabitants should clearly think again.

The Daily Herald

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