Published On: Sat, Oct 14th, 2017

Without Dutch assistance, next disasters loom

Boardwalk Philipsburg after Hurricane Irma - SHTA

Major disasters and stressful situations tend to bring out the best and the worst in people and the organizations managed by them; public and private, and even volunteer.  The indiscriminate nature of Hurricane Irma means that no one has been spared.

Just a month after the passing of Hurricanes Irma and Maria we see some signs of normalcy on St. Maarten, the island is coming back little by little, everyday gets a little better; -a little greener.  Many businesses mostly small and medium size ones are opening their doors to the best of their ability.  Unfortunately, some that were already doing a balancing act on the edge before the storms have come to the sad conclusion that they are no longer viable and have opted to close permanently e.g. Today newspaper after 10 years of operation.

Many of the larger properties, especially in the accommodation sector are either closed until further notice or will be operating at a significantly reduced capacity for some undetermined time e.g. Sonesta Maho Beach, Sonesta Great Bay, Simpson Bay Resort, Oyster Bay Beach Resort, Divi Little Bay Resort and many others.  This will translate to less employment directly in the sector, and spin off unemployment in other sectors.   Cruise arrivals will be reduced, and yachting arrivals and length of stays are also likely to be reduced; causing further contraction in employment.   We need to find a way to offer direct assistance to these employees that will become a victim 3 times over of the storm—assistance such as salary replacement, job retraining and even rent subsidies.

In addition to supporting our displaced labor force; Businesses of all sizes, small to large, also need assistance to ensure they not only reopen as soon as possible; but are able to stay open for the long term—The ideal being to rebuild better and stronger.  In order to accomplish this, subsidies to maintain employees and grants or low interest loans need to be made available to the business community, and in order to do this, the funds need to be made available to St. Maarten in general.

Therefore, we believe that it is vital for the government of the Netherlands to know that the people and the business community of St. Maarten are extremely grateful for all the assistance they have provided thus far; in humanitarian aid, human resources via the Royal Dutch Marines and the Royal Marechaussee; and assets they have deployed.  All of the help given so far has not gone unnoticed and is greatly appreciated.

We are also very cognizant that we still need significantly more assistance on the road to recovery.  Financial assistance needs to be injected into the economy to get it rolling as soon as possible.  Especially as insurance payments seem to be taking some time to start flowing for the rebuild efforts.

All Sint Maarten business leaders are grateful to know that the Kingdom Government is willing to step up and ensure that assistance is there for us.  Therefore, we have no doubt that as responsible and grateful continued recipients of Dutch assistance we too have a fiduciary duty to ensure that every single Euro received in aid is accounted for and disbursed in an integral and fiscally responsible manner.  That aide is disbursed throughout the community and not just to the elite few that know how to ask for it.

Therefore, if the conditions for St. Maarten to continue to receive assistance from Holland translates into an Integrity Chamber which will improve transparency and Increased Border Controls to ensure that in moments of chaos we don’t leave the doors open to our enemies, so be it; the business community of St. Maarten welcomes these conditions; and in fact, believes they are overdue. In an honest and forthright society, those with nothing to hide should not fear accountability and fiscal responsibility but should welcome it with open arms. Given the reticence of our current Prime Minister to accept the conditions, we are left with only the question of what he is afraid of?

St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA)