POND ISLAND--Government is not neglecting the care and restoration of the country’s monuments, but is faced with severe financial restrictions that it is trying to resolve via the establishment of a Monument Fund.

Culture Minister Wycliffe Smith outlined in answers to queries about monument care from United St. Maarten Party Member of Parliament (MP) Rolando Brison dating to July 3, that the “proposal on the table is for the Government Accountants Bureau SOAB to establish the fund post-haste.”

The fund will have as an initial investment 750,000 euros available from the Dutch Ministry of Education and Culture OCW for monument repairs.

The Steering Committee of the St. Maarten Recovery and Resilience Trust Fund is willing to entertain a proposal for the repairs and restoration of several monuments in Philipsburg. The Department of Culture and the Monument Council were requested by the minister to write a proposal for submission to the committee. This proposal will outline monuments in Philipsburg and will highlight the urgency to restore them, to avoid further deterioration of the country’s tangible heritage, said Smith.

Meanwhile, the Monument Council is ensuring all requests for monument permits for repair or restoration are handled expeditiously. When all permit requests are processed, the council will systematically review all other monuments and offer its unsolicited advice on the status and future of the monuments.

The local ministry plans to prepare an inventory of the monuments in Philipsburg for submission to the Steering Committee. The inventory will refer to the listing of monuments included in the report written by Nanette de Jong of the Cultural Heritage Agency in the Netherlands and submitted to the Department of Culture in April 2018.

An inventory of all monuments outside Philipsburg will also be made by the ministry.

Reacting to Brison’s statement that monument care appears to not have his attention, Smith said the care, restoration, repair, maintenance and refurbishing of monuments “will always be a significant concern to me.”

Brison’s perceived lack of urgency to repair monuments is due to “the bureaucratic process involved in repairing monuments, particularly after a major disaster,” stated Smith. His ministry is exploring possible solutions with funding agencies to alleviate the suffering of monument owners, some of whom are senior citizens. The ministry has also lobbied the Netherlands to secure funds to assist with repairs of the hurricane-damaged monuments. It is from this lobby that monies are now available for the start of a Monument Fund.

The funds allotted by OCW for St. Maarten are not a grant but a revolving loan. The ministry requested that the OCW Minister examine the possibility of making a part of the allocated funds a grant to accommodate senior citizens who own and reside in a designated monument and who would not be able to afford a loan.

To be fully equipped and prepared to take care of the country’s tangible heritage, a minimum of three organisations need to be established: a Monument Council, a Monument Fund and a Monument Care entity. Only the Monument Council is in place while the set-up of the Monument Fund is in progress. The Monument Care entity is in the preparatory stage.

The Monument Council can have a maximum of nine members if its budget permits. Currently, the council consists of five members. There will be an additional two members soon, pending their confirmation, to bring the total to seven members. The advice proposing the two additional candidates has been written and sent from the Department of Culture to be finalised.

To date, the Monument Council has officially received five requests. There is no distinction made between urgent and regular requests. All requests are considered important given the post-Hurricane Irma situation.

The council has rendered its advice on five renovation requests and submitted recommendations to the minister on three subjects. These were the need for access to legal and architectural expertise, the establishment of a funding mechanism, i.e. the Monument Fund, and the need for the nomination of a National Archaeologist.

The function of the Monument Council is to act as advisory body to the minister and as such, the council does not have a budget to assist with monuments. In the 2019 Budget, an amount of NAf. 45,000 has been allocated for the Monument Council. This amount is designated to compensate the members of the council for attendance at meetings and for any specialised expertise needed to enable advice to the minister.

To questions from Brison about the cistern close to Walter Plantz Square, Smith said the cistern is a partial remainder of the original monument. The entire land lot was designated as a monument. However, Hurricane Irma destroyed the building of which the cistern was a part. The owner contacted the Department of Culture and made verbal inquiries as to whether the cistern could be demolished. The lot is private property and it is unclear what the owner’s intentions are.

As with all monuments, the ministry’s goal is to support and facilitate all preservation efforts, pointed out Smith. The owner will have to provide a more comprehensive elucidation to the ministry, concerning his vision for the monument. The demolition of the cistern needs careful consideration as it is a prominent part of what is left of the designated monument in the wake of the destruction of Hurricane Irma. The Department is awaiting a formal request from the monument owner.

On the splitting up of Pasanggrahan Royal Guesthouse, Smith explained that it had been recommended that the monument part be put under a separate certificate of admeasurement from the rest of the building to make it easier to negotiate restoration and funding of the monument section.

In consultation with the Ministry of Spatial Planning and Infrastructure VROMI, it was also determined that the property is being charged a lower tariff for land tax while a majority of the property is being used commercially as a hotel.

Smith said it had been decided that in issuing two separate deeds (“meetbriefs”), the owners could now pay the proper rate for the tariff attached to the section used as a hotel and a reduced rate for the section on which the monument sits. This change allows government to properly collect tax at its full potential.

The ministry is only responsible to safeguard and support the restoration and rebuilding of the monument section of Pasanggrahan, not the new addition to the property that falls outside of the purview of the Monument Council.

The owner of the monument has requested funding to assist with repairs and with the rebuilding of the monument section. However, pending the creation of the Monument Fund to assist with funding repairs and restoration of monuments, there is currently no funding in place to restore, rebuild or renovate monuments.