Back row (from left): Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and NRPB Director Claret Connor. Front row (from left): World Bank Country Director for Caribbean Countries Lilia Burunciuc and Steering Committee members Marcel Gumbs (St. Maarten) and Frans Weekers (the Netherlands).
PHILIPSBURG--Mental health, upgrading of sports facilities, Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA), a potential sustainable housing project and the financial management of government are amongst the areas to which remaining Trust Fund monies will be allocated.
The allocations were approved by the Steering Committee of the St. Maarten Irma Trust Fund for Reconstruction, Recovery and Resilience, which met in Philipsburg on Wednesday to discuss the disbursement of remaining funds for activities prioritised by the government of St. Maarten.
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said at a press conference on Wednesday that (approximately) US $120 million in remaining Trust Fund monies had been allocated.
This includes $15 million that will go to government’s financial management; $20 million for a potential sustainable housing project subject to an assessment of its impact and timeframe for implementation; $20 million for additional airport funding; $8M in support of a mental health project carried out in partnership with Mental Health Foundation (MHF); and up to $15 million for new projects under the Emergency Recovery Project 1 (ERP-1), which would include, amongst other things, the rehabilitation of sports facilities, additional infrastructure for the Meteorological Department, and possible support to conservation and environmental protection activities.
Additionally, $45 million in additional financing has been allocated to the ERP-1 to continue and complete the wide range of existing activities, including repairs to homes, schools, and critical government buildings damaged during Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Jacobs said it was important to note that the priorities of government received consensus of all parties involved and this was the manner in which projects were approved.
NRPB Director Claret Connor said he was happy with the additional funding that had been approved by the steering committee. Two areas that he found particularly important were mental health and sports facilities. “I feel personally that the physical and mental wellbeing of the people are important, especially post the disasters that we have experienced as a country,” he said. Connor is happy to see the Trust Fund moving in the direction of stimulating the country by building resilience in these areas.
Projects to the tune of $300 million are currently being implemented and another $200 million is being worked on and had just been approved on Wednesday to complete by the end of 2025.
Steering committee member for the Netherlands Frans Weekers thanked his fellow committee members for the fruitful discussions held on Wednesday and former World Bank Country Director for Caribbean Countries Tahseen Sayed for her continuous engagement over the years.
Weekers said that although the committee meets twice to thrice annually, numerous meetings had been held over the phone and via video conference to discuss and solve issues. The fruitful discussions began in the Netherlands a few weeks ago in The Hague and in the last few weeks parties had been working on “a very positive agenda” for the remaining years of the Trust Fund.
Parties visited a number of projects on Tuesday and more visits were scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. The visit to St. Maarten will conclude today, Thursday.
Weekers said it “feels good”, after years of discussion and preparation, to see “tangible results for the people of St. Maarten” for whom the projects are being executed.
Steering Committee member for St. Maarten Marcel Gumbs said that while the road had not been an easy one, parties had been able to get over the hurdles.
“What we are seeing now in 2021 is the fruits of the Trust Fund – it is coming to fruition now where we’re seeing the results, even though there was a delay by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gumbs said. “We still [continued – Ed.] a lot of work … thanks to Zoom and Teams and via the Internet. So, a lot was done, but we could have been a lot further ahead, but we are very happy with the progress that is being made with the cooperation with NRPB, the executing arm of these projects, and with the World Bank.”
While there are many projects to talk about, Gumbs is “very satisfied” with the development at St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC). He said the team at SMMC is working hard and he is impressed with the work related to the expansion, which contributed to a lowering of the number of referrals abroad, causing Social and Health Insurance SZV to save and enabling more patients to receive treatment at home closer to their families.
He also mentioned the approval of funds for MHF and the repair of sport facilities, noting that while many believe that Trust Fund monies should go to cement blocks and buildings, by ploughing funds into MHF and sport facilities, humans will be “built.”
“We are building people with this funding. I am very happy that we were able to get the approval for these, especially mental health care. We are suffering. We see it every day with especially the effects of not only the hurricane, but the pandemic,” Gumbs said.
World Bank Country Director for Caribbean Countries Lilia Burunciuc, whose visit to St. Maarten is her first official one in her new position and her first visit to the Caribbean, expressed her love for the island and looks forward to returning. Burunciu was happy to visit some projects on Tuesday and was impressed with what had been accomplished at SMMC. She described the progress made thus far as being “very good,” and said she looked forward to movement on ongoing and new projects.
The World Bank, she noted, is committed to continue supporting the implementation of projects.
Asked about the pace of the disbursement of funds, Burunciuc said that while it is always important to move with speed, this should not be to the detriment of quality and it should not harm the people. She said the process has to be conducted in a transparent manner. The World Bank has high standards, which are applied in its projects around the world.
“We are committed to moving as fast as possible,” she said, adding that the process had taken some time in the beginning because systems and processes had to be put in place, as these did not previously exist. These being in place will allow future projects to move at a faster pace.