Published On: Fri, Sep 27th, 2019

Dutch State Secretary Knops’ prepared speech for Parliament

Raymond Knops

PHILIPSBURG — Below is a copy of the integral speech the Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, Raymond Knops, had intended to give to the Parliament of Sint Maarten on Wednesday, September 25, 2019.

This meeting was at the request of Member of Parliament, Claude ‘Chacho’ Peterson (SMCP) and seconded by members of parliament Franklin Meyers and Dr. Luc Mercelina, both then of the United Democrats (UD) party.

The meeting was however cancelled by then chairperson of Parliament, MP Sarah Wescot-Williams, citing the lack of interest of the majority of factions in Parliament to attend the meeting, a claim that was immediately refuted by the new majority coalition in Parliament in a statement saying the ministers of St. Maarten are accountable to parliament, not Knops.

Below is a copy of the complete speech of State Secretary Knops:

During the last two years, I have had the honour and privilege to not only meet the government of St. Maarten, but to get to know the people of this beautiful island. I have been in the homes of many people in Dutch Quarter, in Middle Region, in St. Peters, and throughout St. Maarten. People have shared their stories with me, their passions, their hopes and their realities. They have welcomed me in their homes and have given me a real view of their lives.

It reminds me, as it reminds all of us, that a kingdom is not just a piece of paper, or an agreement. The foundation of a kingdom is its people, from the school children to the elderly, to the young entrepreneurs who are rebuilding their island. They all have shown strength and resilience, and they are the reason that we in positions of power must continue to do our jobs with full commitment and dedication.

It is the people of St. Maarten that had to suffer the direct consequences of Hurricane Irma. But you were not on your own. I strongly felt, just like so many other people in the Netherlands, that we as Kingdom partners should look out for each other in times of trouble and in times of need.

And after Hurricane Irma, the Netherlands, and the other Kingdom partners Aruba and Curaçao, didn’t hesitate to help St. Maarten as their fellow Kingdom partner. The military carried out its operation with total commitment. The Dutch government and people sent emergency equipment, medical equipment, police to help, educational supplies, heavy equipment and trucks.

A total of 50 million euros was spent on St. Maarten alone during the emergency phase – a cost that was paid for by the government and the people of the Netherlands without hesitation. And after this, the government of the Netherlands, with taxpayers’ money from the people of the Netherlands, committed 550 million euros as a grant to the reconstruction of St. Maarten – a true act of partnership within our Kingdom, something we can all be proud of!”

Strong commitment

With this strong commitment from the people and the government of the Netherlands a way forward had to be found to guide this process. To be able to manage the reconstruction efforts, together we chose a global partner in the World Bank – a partner that could guide this process and make sure that international standards and norms were part of the procedures. This is important for all of us, for St. Maarten as a young country in the Kingdom, as well as for the Netherlands, which is using taxpayers’ money and public funds to finance the reconstruction.

As a result of our partnership I can say today that almost 1,000 houses have been repaired and that 500 more are about to be started. Over 1,300 students have graduated from the hospitality and construction courses funded by the trust fund, and were able to use this terrible situation to try to improve their lives through training.

The hospital will receive US $25 million and will be built to category 5 hurricane standard with the help of the recovery trust fund. In total over US $300 million has already been earmarked for projects from the trust fund and more than US $200 million can still be guided towards projects that will help with the reconstruction of St. Maarten.

But, in a partnership, all partners must live up to their part of the deal. The World Bank is our third partner in this process. And while much progress has been made, there are also many areas that need to be improved and strengthened. I would suggest that you, as Members of Parliament, engage as much as you can to help move this process forward. It ties up with what I believe should be the crucial cornerstone of every politician’s drive and ambition: to serve the people and to improve their daily lives.”

Airport reconstruction

The reconstruction of the airport is a case in point. The fact that the reconstruction has taken so long to finally start is for one simple reason: it has been the counteracting and undermining of certain influential powers constantly working against this deal and trying to sabotage the process. I am fully confident that this is the best deal for St. Maarten.

Together with the World Bank we have worked extremely hard to make a deal with the European Investment Bank and the bondholders to reconstruct and prevent the bankruptcy of the Princess Juliana International Airport. To help facilitate this, the Netherlands also gave an interest-free loan of US $15 million to the airport in March and has involved the professional assistance of the Royal Schiphol Group.

Outside of the trust fund we also have had discussions as Kingdom partners about other issues as well, and I would like to pay quick attention to what I think is an issue of utmost importance for the people of St. Maarten, one that can also have an effect on other Kingdom partners. This would be to do all you can to prevent an official statement concerning the [Caribbean Financial Action Task Force – Ed.] CFATF anti-money laundering laws which would have a devastating effect on your economy and your people. Realise, for example, what this means for American tourists getting off their cruise ships. They are no longer able to use their credit cards to spend their US dollars on Front Street.”

Liquidity support

I was also asked to update the Parliament about the liquidity support request for 2019. We have been asked to help support the liquidity position of the Country St. Maarten. We have asked that if the Netherlands were to give this support, the Members of the St. Maarten Parliament, just as the Dutch taxpayers have done, would help to shoulder this burden by taking a salary reduction to show solidarity. At this point we have already given NAf. 130 million in liquidity support to St. Maarten.

In short, I would like to say that I believe we can achieve more by working together. Working against each other doesn’t benefit the people of St. Maarten. As members of this Kingdom we owe it to our people to have straightforward discussions with each other, to have an open and honest dialogue. I believe in that. I sincerely hope you do too. Because only then can we join forces and achieve the results the people in our Kingdom deserve.

Speech of Dutch State Secretary Knops

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Related stories:
MP Claude ‘Chacho’ Peterson requests meeting to be convened with State Secretary Knops
MP Peterson: “Goal accomplished”; Parliament meeting with Knops set for Wednesday
Chairlady of Parliament cancels meeting with State Secretary Knops
New Coalition: St. Maarten Ministers accountable to Parliament, not Knops