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Published On: Tue, May 15th, 2018

Thumbs up to PM Marlin-Romeo from PM Rutte

Knops - Rutte - Marlin-Romeo - 20180514 HH

PHILIPSBURG – The visit of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to St. Maarten seems to mark the beginning of a better relationship with the Kingdom. On more than one occasion, Rutte said that he has confidence in Prime Minister Leona Marlin-Romeo and he even went as far as saying that he hopes she will stay on in that function in the next government.

Michel Soons and Rutte -20180514 HH

Accompanied by State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations), Rutte paid a visit to Governor Holiday and later in the morning he went to the White and Yellow Cross where he was received by the chairman of the supervisory board Michel Soons and the organization’s project leader early recovery projects José Verschueren-Sommers. Rutte toured the facility and engaged in conversation with several residents.

Rutte with WYC-resident - 20180514 HH

At an impromptu press conference towards the end of the tour, Rutte expressed his confidence in Prime Minister Leona Marlin-Romeo for the first time: “I hope that she will continue.”

Rutte came to the island to assess the damages inflicted by Hurricane Irma in September of last year, to discuss progress with recovery and to get a handle on St. Maarten’s preparedness for the upcoming hurricane season.

“With all due respect, that you will have everything in order before the next hurricane season does not seem realistic to me,” the prime minister said. Rutte mentioned shelter-capacity, the dump and the prison as topics of concern.

“State Secretary Knops and I are both concerned about that large mountain of burning garbage. That is bad for the economy, because why would tourists come here if the place smells like a dirty house? The baby-dump behind it is a risk in case a new hurricane hits the island.”

Rutte and State Secretary Raymond Knops - 20180514 HH

The delay in recovery-assistance, caused by disputes with the previous government about the conditions the kingdom demanded before making more than half a billion euros available for the reconstruction of the island was inevitable, Rutte said. The kingdom demanded strengthening of the border control and the establishment of the Integrity Chamber. All that took time, because the previous government initially refused to comply.

“You cannot explain to Dutch tax payers that you are going to invest half a billion euros in this island – twice the size of St. Maarten’s annual budget –  without absolute certainty, or near certainty that you have measures in place in the field of border control and the fight against corruption. For that, the situation has deteriorated too much during the past couple of years,” Rutte said.

The Dutch prime minister said that border control and the Integrity Chamber are two important conditions. “Those two instruments do not offer a guarantee but they do give us a large measure of confidence that things are going to get better. Add to that that we both have confidence in the current prime minister.”

Rutte furthermore noted that St. Maarten currently has an interim-government – “with the perspective of a real government that wants to tackle the issues.” He pointed out that “traditionally” there is a lack of trust between the Netherlands and St. Maarten. “That is why we wanted to have border control and the Integrity Chamber in place before we were willing to spend any money – apart from the early recovery assistance.”

Rutte created the impression that Marlin-Romeo’s position as the prime minister in the next government is a done deal: “We both (Rutte and Knops – ed.) hope that Leona Marlin and her incoming team will do two things: work in the spirit of fighting corruption and working hard at implementing the necessary measures to rebuild the island.”

Amid all these positive vibes, Rutte was quick to take away the impression that the Netherlands is prepared to become St. Maarten’s sugar daddy. “The €550 million in the trust fund, that is what we put into the pot but St. Maarten will have to pay a lot itself. It is not so that the Netherlands will be able to pay for everything. We are already spending twice St. Maarten’s annual budget. It cannot only come from the Netherlands; that is impossible.”

There was a little barb at the end, when Rutte noted that something could have been done by the local government. “One of the things that could have been done during the past five months is to stop the burning of the dump.”

Smoke City - Photo by Ronnie Busby

At the end of the day, after a tour of the Simpson Bay Lagoon together with Collectivité President Daniel Gibbs, Rutte said at a press conference at the airport that he was struck by the resilience of the people, adding that there is still a lot to be done.

“I hope that the Prime Minister will remain the same in the next government,” he said again.

State Secretary Knops said that he is “committed to remove the dump quickly,” without giving a time frame and without indicating how this should become a reality. He also said that there is “a commitment in the Kingdom Council of Ministers to work together.”

Rutte noted that there is still a lack of trust, though he puts his confidence in Prime Minister Marlin-Romeo.

Asked about the gaping hole in the 2018 budget of close to 200 million guilders, Rutte said that the kingdom is not willing to offer budget support. “But we are willing to look at liquidity-support.”

Prime Minister Marlin-Romeo offered Rutte and Knops tokens of appreciation, including a clock for the Dutch Prime minister designed to remind him to never let St. Maarten out of his thoughts.

Rutte - Marlin-Romeo - clock - 20180514 HH

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Photo captions Rutte visit

PIC: Knops – Rutte – Marlin-Romeo 20180514 – HH

Caption: From left State Secretary Raymond Knops and Prime Ministers Mark Rutte and Leona Marlin-Romeo during the press conference at the airport. Photo Hilbert Haar.

PIC: Michel Soons and Rutte 20180514 – HH

Caption: Michel Soons, chairman of the supervisory board at the White and Yellow Cross walks the grounds of the facility with Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Photo Hilbert Haar.

PIC: Rutte with WYC-resident 20180514 – HH

Caption: Prime Minister Mark Rutte in conversation with a resident of the White and Yellow Cross facility. Photo Hilbert Haar.

PIC: Rutte and State secretary Knops 20180514 – HH

Caption: Prime Minister Mark Rutte and State Secretary Raymond Knops during an impromptu press conference at the White and Yellow Cross. Photo Hilbert Haar.

PIC: Rutte – Marlin-Romeo – clock 20180514 – HH

Caption: Prime Minister Marlin-Romeo presents a clock to her Dutch counterpart Rutte at the end of the press conference at the airport. Photo Hilbert Haar.

PIC: Where fire meets water

Caption: The smoking dump seen from the sea across Great Bay. Photo provided by Ronny Busby.