Published On: Mon, Nov 27th, 2017

Interview State Secretary Raymond Knops about reconstruction fund

Raymond Knops 20171127A - HHPHILIPSBURG – St. Maarten will get around €40 million ($47.6 million at the current rate of exchange) financial support from the Netherlands for its 2017 budget, State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) said at a press conference on Monday afternoon, but he did not say anything on support from the 2018 budget that will face an even greater deficit.

“In general, I am not in favor of budget-support,” Knops said, adding that the particular circumstances after Hurricane Irma had inspired the Kingdom Council of Ministers to decide – last week Friday – to support St. Maarten’s 2017 budget. The money comes from the $550 million reconstruction fund.

Knops met with Governor Holiday, the Council of Ministers and the chairlady of Parliament, Sarah Wescot-Williams, on Monday morning. After the press conference at the beginning of the afternoon, he visited the harbor, several villages and the Coastguard at the Simpson Bay Lagoon.

The State Secretary, who is just 4.5 weeks in office, said that he was impressed by the hospitality of the people he had met so far in St. Maarten, but also by the damages Hurricane Irma has inflicted on the island.

“It is not only material damage,” he said. “You also feel that there are social damages. People experience a lack of perspective, they don’t know how to restart their future.”

In spite of the political issues that have marred the relationship between the Kingdom and St. Maarten, Knops said that the Netherlands sees the need for help. He spoke of deep concerns and a commitment to the island. “I have been very busy with St. Maarten,” he said, adding that his intention is  to provide “help on the ground” and that this is what the people need. “we do our best to deliver,” he said.

Knops met on his first day in office already with Governor Holiday. He said that he is looking for “a common will to work together” and that he has felt positive vibes from the Governor, the Council of Ministers and the chairlady of Parliament.

Knops acknowledged that the relationship between The Hague and St. Maarten is strained but added that he wants to give this relationship a new impulse.

“We all should learn from the past two weeks,” he said. “Politicians have to be there for the people and not for self-interest.”

“We are committed to spend that money”

Knops said that the Kingdom has delivered the money for the reconstruction on November 10. “We are ready,” he said. “But even today there are politicians who doubt about accepting the conditions. We are however committed to spend that money.”

Knops defended the decision by the Kingdom Council of Ministers to instruct the Governor to promote the departure of Prime Minister Marlin. “After a motion of no confidence a cabinet becomes outgoing, and it can stay in office until there is a new government,” he said. “But after a motion of no confidence against a particular minister, that minister has to step down immediately. Because Mr. Marlin took two weeks, I saw no other way than to give the instruction.”

The State Secretary said that the intention is to have the World Bank supervise the budget for the reconstruction, but he noted that there is no agreement with this institution yet.

Knops said that he understands the fear that working with the world Bank could lead to delays – “they have their procedures” – but that there is a need to act rapidly. “The next hurricane season is almost underway. We cannot change the procedures of the World Bank, so I will look for a practical way of operating. My priority is how we can help the people in St. Maarten first.”

Photo above caption: State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops. Photo Hilbert Haar.