Published On: Mon, Oct 18th, 2021

How St. Maarten fails to pick up millions in European subsidies – UPDATED

PHILIPSBURG — St. Maarten misses out on millions of European subsidies because the government is unable – or incapable, or unwilling – to write the proper project proposals that would unlock these funds.

A column published on the website dossierkoninkrijksrelaties.nl under the headline Message from Sint Maarten, written by StMaartenNews.com publisher Terrance Rey, examines this rather baffling phenomenon.

The column mentions a €14 million ($16.2 million) subsidy for the establishment of a polytechnic university on the island and a €4 million ($4.6 million) subsidy for an aquaponics project. The university never materialized because the government failed to submit the required paperwork and the aquaponics project died even after that same government had made a piece of land available to a foundation. No paperwork. No money. No project.

Rey indicated in great detail that the European Union explains on one of its websites (also in great detail) what overseas territories like St. Maarten have to do to receive subsidies. How difficult can it be? Based on results, for St. Maarten it is apparently too difficult, a bridge too far.

“St. Maarten leaves millions of European subsidies unused because the government apparently is unable to write project proposals,” the column states.

Several readers share this sentiment. Paul Riviere notes that Les Brown proposed a project for the establishment of a CIOS (Central Institute for the Training of Sports Leaders) ten years ago. Nothing ever came of it. “The government should use an NGO (non-governmental organization) to set up projects and to help with the paperwork,” Riviere suggests. In the past, AMFO (the Antillean Co-financing Organization) took care of these matters. After it closed down, the St. Maarten Development Fund was established to take over its role and is the sole organization of its kind doing such work on St. Maarten. However, the results of other entities in other sectors in this field remain disappointing. Alternatively, hiring consultants to do the job as has been done in other countries like Curacao is simply too expensive.

Gerard van Osch (Aids Foundation) does not have positive experiences with the government either. “Where can we evaluate possible subsidies that fit our objectives?” he asked. “Once government gets involved we end up in ongoing meetings and nothing moves forward. In the past we participated in writing a grant request for a European development fund. All money had to go through the government and it got stuck there. So it was a lot of work that did not benefit the foundation.”

The funding for the joint Dutch-French sewage treatment plant in Cole Bay is a sad example of how things can (and will) go wrong in this field. The €11 million ($12.76 million) in funding for this project has been available since 2008 – that’s thirteen years ago – but the St. Maarten government failed to produce a cooperation program and the subsidy got stuck. The EU’s Interact organization put it like this: “Following the blocking of diplomatic relations as a result of a border dispute (at Oyster Pond) it was not possible to administer funding for the Cole Bay sewage treatment plant.”

The breakdown of diplomatic relations with the French government occurred after then Prime Minister William Marlin (justly) labeled the perceived unity between the Dutch and the French side as “a farce” in his St. Maarten Day speech in November 2016.

This time, it was not the paperwork that got in the way but all the same, St. Maarten shot itself in the foot again; for once, by taking a stand.


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Column: Net een dubbeltje op zijn kant


Publisher’s Note: In a previous version of this article, we incorrectly stated that after the AMFO closed down, the St. Maarten Development Fund was established to take over its role, but the results remain disappointing. This is incorrect. We wanted to point out that results in other areas remain disappointing. This error has been corrected. With sincere apologies to the St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF), its hard working and energetic staff, management (under the past leadership of Mr. Keith Franca and the present leadership of Ms. Makhicia Brooks) and the supervisory board. StMaartenNews.com, its publisher and editor have nothing but good things to say about the SMDF.

Read our past articles about this entity, its activities and its management:
Keith Franca bids farewell to the SMDF
After seven years Keith Franca returns to consulting – with a plan to visit seven islands
Melanie Choisy joins St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF)
SMDF meets Council of Ministers
SMDF delivers yet another home
SMDF Launches Masks for the Masses Project