State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops and Dutch Representation in Philipsburg Chris Johnson at Thursday’s press conference.
MAHO--Very fruitful was the way Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops described his brief working visit to St. Maarten, wrapping up his visit to the islands. He had also visited Aruba, and Bonaire.
He told reporters at a press conference on Thursday that the visit had been long overdue. “It was very fruitful,” he said adding that positive meetings had been held and he is confident that the discussions can be transferred into action.
He has seen the resilience of the St. Maarten people and he is confident that the crisis can be overcome, but cautioned that “doing the same things that we have done before and thinking that it will automatically go in the right direction is like believing fairy tales.”
An analysis has to be made on what is good and repair what is weak, he said stressing that this has to be done together.
During his visit Knops, who arrived late Wednesday and departed late Thursday, met with Governor Eugene Holiday, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, Finance Minister Ardwell Irion and other relevant ministers. He also visited the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB), representatives of various non-governmental organisations to discuss the experiences of the past year, the new COVID-19 pavilion and the St Maarten Red Cross, amongst others.
He assured that there is no Dutch takeover of St. Maarten. “Not at all. We [will – Ed.] do it together. We have no ambition whatsoever to step into the responsibility of the government or the Parliament. Not at all. And I really hope that the conditions for good cooperation have been reset in the last weeks and also today, so that we can make a good start, and when I come back – and I hope that will be before summer – that I can see tangible results.”
The main purpose of the visit was to engage government in specific areas as a follow-up on agreements made prior to the end of 2020.
Knops said that while he noted progress in the country, the situation is not good. The country is unable to fulfil its financial obligations and requested assistance in the form of liquidity support from the government of the Netherlands to meet these obligations.
“What we have seen in the last three quarters of a year is that nobody can solve these problems alone and that it is essential that we use this period to fix the root, to repair these things that have proven to be weak, because we all have the same aim in the Kingdom together – the four countries – try to help each other to become stronger.”
Alluding to the “St. Maarten strong” motto, he said this is something he stands for, but stressed, “You cannot do this alone and in the last weeks after the period of negotiations, we have reached an agreement and that agreement is, in my opinion and in the opinion of the Prime Minister and other ministers that I spoke to today [Thursday], the basis of continuance and cooperation in the next years.
“The issues being faced by St. Maarten are many. There can be no quick fixes. Reforms are necessary in government and in the public sector, and investments need to be made. And we have a lot of knowledge. We have a lot of experience. We can work together and we are now setting up the COHO [Caribbean reform entity] … which the four countries agreed to.”
One of the issues discussed with the NRPB was the dump. Discussions focused on restoring and recovering the situation at the dump, which had been on fire recently. Knops says the fire and smoke are “an imminent threat” for persons in the neighbourhood and the general population.
“It’s a complex situation, but we have to do it together – the World Bank, Netherlands and the government of St. Maarten – and I see very committed people. People who really want to make progress in their country.”
The dump is a very complex issue. “There are very few countries which have created such a huge problem over decades which now has to be solved. After one of my first visits, I was astonished, but the fact that people in St. Maarten are suffering from a dump that’s continuously burning and that smoke is bad for all the citizens of the island and bad for the economy and for tourists.”
St. Maarten was told that the “elephant in the room,” which was the dump, had to be addressed. “Everybody knows that it’s not okay, but nobody has done anything.”
In the NRPB meeting, in which Prime Minister Jacobs and Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Minister Egbert Yurendy Doran were present, discussions were also held on overcoming the problems being faced such as the resettlement of the residents in the environs and finding new land to construct homes, amongst others.
An establishment agreement is also necessary to facilitate people from the World Bank working from St. Maarten to execute projects. “So, it’s a combination of factors and nobody is doubting the importance of solving the dump’s problems.” Efforts will be made next week with Dutch representatives who have remained in the country, about how the issue with the dump can be fixed. “There is commitment, I saw it also on the government side. So, let’s do it.”
The COHO, the Pointe Blanche prison and vaccinations were amongst other issues brought up in the press conference based on questions asked by media operatives.