Published On: Fri, Nov 1st, 2019

Ferrier: It is never nice to say “I told you so”

Letter - St Maarten NewsDear Editor,

“I told you so” is a phrase used when a warning issued in the past is ignored, only to be proven correct in the present. It is never nice to say, “I told you so”, but if ever there was a good reason for doing so, it is the shameful state of POST-IRMA emergency help to many of the most vulnerable members of our community. THIS part of the reconstruction effort of St. Maarten as represented by the $550 million Trust Fund, is failing! After 2+ years we can even conclude that IT HAS FAILED those citizens most in need of help.

The evidence was presented just last week by the Ombudsman. Their documentary about the state of affairs of government’s home repair efforts is proof that St. Maarten has failed to provide for many defenseless victims of Hurricane Irma. Having been part of the Interim Government from January to June 2018, we knew that without outside financial aid, the Government’s hands would be tied. Holland benevolently told the WORLD and us that it was making available 550 million Euros for emergency aid and reconstruction efforts. But, due to a lack of trust in the body politic of SXM, the Dutch choose to insert the WORLD BANK as the “Keepers of the Safe”. As Interim Minister of Finance I rang the bell loudly and continuously about the fact that while the WB management of the funds could contribute to a better St. Maarten over time, emergency home repairs would fail miserably because of all the bureaucracy. So said, so done!

It is shameful that with money in the Trust Fund, available for the purpose of building homes, well-meaning persons from the Dr. J. Foundation have to run around seeking donations from the private sector in order to fix a few broken down and abandoned emergency homes to give shelter to families and elderly persons, who have seemingly fallen through the bureaucratic cracks. A Crisis Shelter operated by the Foundation is about to close up shop. Through the efforts of former Minister of VSA, Emil Lee and his staff, Government was able to scrape together funding for the Crisis Shelter for two years. Since then we have a fully operating NRPB, the WB is on the ground and in our midst, there are still millions of dollars in the Trust Fund, but the shelter is closing and now these vulnerable persons, have no place to go. How ironic, how sad!

The warning about taking an overly bureaucratic approach to administer emergency reconstruction funding was not heeded. We all understand that the Dutch donor wanted to guarantee that funds would not be misused for corrupt or unethical purposes. St. Maarten would be helped but World Bank procedure had to be followed. Time and time again, we were told to be patient, the approach would bear fruit. Ok, so it’s been two years but while there are many rules, common-sense solutions are in short supply. If the rules allow victims to remain homeless after two years, something isn’t right about the rules.

As Interim Minister of Finance, I made numerous requests on behalf of the Leona Marlin Government. Holland (in the person of State Secretary Knops) made a verbal commitment to grant St. Maarten an amount in short term financial aid that would NOT run through the World Bank in response to our warning that too much ‘red tape’ would hurt people with the most urgent needs. We were asked to provide a list of projects. We did; 23 million US dollars’ worth of what were dubbed “low hanging fruit” by those of us in that February 2018 meeting in the Hague. But the promised direct support from Holland to the SXM never materialized. Sadly, the failure of which we warned has come to pass. The Ombudsman’s very graphic video clip has proven the point!

So yes, I told you so! After the hurricane, those who were able to help themselves, DID. Many who could not, like pensioners with limited income and whose homes were destroyed, unfortunately, today, October 31, 2019, are still waiting for help. Persons who were rendered homeless, continue to need assistance. Organizations like the Dr. J. Foundation, supported by the Rotary Club of St. Maarten and some local businesses, are on the frontline trying to help, but these groups are relegated to fundraising campaigns and begging on behalf of proud St. Maarteners, who won’t!

This is like a man in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by water on all sides, but without a drop to drink. With a Trust Fund of $550 million, why should any organization have to hit the street to beg donations of a few thousand dollars to put roofs over the heads of our citizens? The Trust Fund is failing; it is failing the very people who it is meant to help. Maybe not a dollar will be misspent but creating homelessness from helplessness is UNETHICAL and morally corrupt. That’s a warning too!

Michael J. Ferrier
(with input from other concerned citizens)

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Related articles:
Former Minister Ferrier: “The trust fund is failing”
Hurricane shelter project closes in January – and its residents have nowhere to go
Dr. J. Foundation urges community to donate to the Hurricane Irma Reintegration Program
Presentation outreach report to Parliament by the Ombudsman
Ombudsman documentary