Jacobs: Talks with Knops mark ‘new beginning’ for Netherlands, St. Maarten

Jacobs: Talks with Knops mark ‘new  beginning’ for Netherlands, St. Maarten

Representatives of the St. Maarten and Dutch delegations.

PHILIPSBURG--“A new beginning for the Netherlands and St. Maarten” was the description used by Prime Minister (PM) Silveria Jacobs to describe talks held with Dutch State Secretary for Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops and his delegation last Thursday, January 7.

  Jacobs, the Minister of General Affairs, Finance Minister Ardwell Irion, Justice Minister Anna Richardson and Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Minister Egbert Doran and their support staff met with Knops and his delegation in a series of meetings at the Government Administration Building to update and follow-up on agreements made prior to the end of 2020. The Dutch delegation consisted of Dutch Representative Chris Johnson, Country Director-General of Kingdom Relations Saskia de Reuver and Acting Programme Manager for St. Maarten Sanne Kouwenhoven, who are appointed to the Temporary Working Organisation (TWO) of the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK awaiting the establishment of the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO.

  Both delegations were able to convey their support and eagerness to begin this process, while emphasising the long and challenging road ahead to realise the ambitious country reform package, Jacobs said in a press release on Friday. The ministers specifically took the opportunity to highlight areas of importance, for which work and collaboration are immediately needed, as well as to outline their hopes and intentions for the many projects that can be implemented under the umbrella of the country packages. During the working visit, Knops and his delegation were also introduced to government’s newly implemented and approved structure for the discussions regarding the country package. The structure consisting of a Monitoring Committee and Secretaries General Platform/Consultation was explained, giving an indication of communication lines with counterparts in the TWO established by the Dutch.

  “The government of St. Maarten, including ministers, secretaries general, department heads and civil servants, will all play a major role in the planning and execution of the reforms, ensuring that the subsequent programmes and projects have the interest of St. Maarten and its people first and foremost, and have our input from the beginning,” Jacobs said in the release. As such, the St. Maarten government representatives were set to start meetings with the Dutch TWO on a technical level, scheduled for last Friday and continuing today and tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday, to deal with the most urgent matters with upcoming deadlines.

  During the first meeting, Jacobs and Irion were able to provide Knops and his delegation with an update on meeting the conditions for the second and third tranches of liquidity support. Furthermore, the reconstruction via the Trust Fund was discussed, along with progress and challenges. Jacobs also highlighted gratitude to the Dutch government for the areas of collaboration in the matters related to public health and the coronavirus COVID-19 response, as well as challenges that still exist in relation to needed personnel and the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination strategy of the kingdom and St. Maarten. These topics will be further elaborated on in the technical meetings.

  Knops provided an update on the status of the COHO draft legislation law, upon the query of the prime minister, which is still at the Kingdom Council of State, and confirmed that St. Maarten’s questions were added to those of the other Caribbean kingdom partners. The timeline moving forward was also briefly discussed, including the trajectory for the draft law to be handled in all the parliaments in the kingdom after the Council of State has rendered its advice. Throughout the negotiation process, Jacobs sent all documents pertaining to St. Maarten’s country reform package to Parliament and has also kept Members of Parliament (MPs) updated on a regular basis about the conditions agreed upon for the second and third tranches of liquidity support.

  In subsequent meetings held, Doran highlighted several matters in relation to the Trust Fund’s Emergency Debris Management Project (EDMP). Solid waste management, challenges at the landfill, as well as the challenges being faced with the resettlement of residents living near the landfill, were among the issues discussed. Challenges experienced with the World Bank regulations and the necessity of awaiting their input and approval to be able to proceed in areas needing immediate attention require real collaborative effort on all sides to get this project moving, considering the three years that have already elapsed.

  In the meeting related to pending justice matters, Richardson discussed matters in relation to the working relationship with UNOPS which is the organisation proposed to build and manage the new prison. Richardson also discussed the collaboration of our law enforcement and immigration matters and there was agreement that much of the follow-up would be done in the upcoming kingdom ministerial consultation in the Judicial Four-Party Consultation JVO meetings.

  “This marks a new beginning for the Netherlands and St. Maarten as we embark together on this mutual agreement. The government of St. Maarten identifies and acknowledges the opportunity to make St. Maarten resilient through structural reforms. As such, we are developing our implementation strategy for the package of reforms which is to be complementary to the projects and initiatives already in place via the Trust Fund and World Bank,” stated Prime Minister Jacobs.