Published On: Fri, Jan 8th, 2021

Knops: “There will be no Dutch take-over”

PHILIPSBURG – “There is not and there will not be a Dutch take-over,” State Secretary Drs. Raymond Knops said at a press conference in Maho at the end of his flash visit to St. Maarten. “All these stories, all these fairytales are simply not true.”

Knops said that he is confident that St. Maarten will overcome the current crisis. “But believing that we can do this by doing things the way we did them before is like believing in fairytales,” he said.

Knops arrived Wednesday evening from Aruba together his delegation that consists of fewer than forty people. Some of them will stay here to make agreements with civil servants in preparation for the establishment of the Caribbean Development and Support Organization (COHO).

The state secretary held discussions with Governor Holiday and with several ministers. He also visited Trust Fund projects and the Red Cross.

“The Red Cross is playing a big role in distributing food packages and aid to people and they are also still busy with roof repairs.” Knops later said that 13,000 people are depending on aid. “That is a huge percentage of the population.” (The approximate percentage, assuming a population of 40,000, is 32.5 percent).

Volunteers are providing for people who don’t have anything, Knops pointed out. “That is why I find it acceptable to ask an offer from everybody, also from people who still have a job.”

Knops remained upbeat in the face of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. “I see progress. I see it in the street, I see it in the economy and I see it in the people. But the situation is worse now than it was after Hurricane Irma. St. Maarten is unable to fulfill all of its financial needs that are necessary to execute government-functions.”

Knops emphasized that cooperation is key. “The government has admitted to the need for cooperation within the kingdom. During the past three quarters of a year we have seen that nobody can solve problems alone. We have reached an agreement that is – in my opinion and that of the prime minister – the basis for cooperation in the next year. We have a lot of knowledge and experience. The problems are so big and so imminent right now that there are no quick fixes anymore.”

Knops noted that the process of setting up the COHO (the Caribbean Development and Support Organization) is underway within the context of the (yet to be approved) underlying consensus kingdom law.

The state secretary said that he had “a very fruitful meeting” with members of the NRPB – St. Maarten’s National Recovery Program Bureau – about the dump. “That is still an imminent threat, but the issue is complex. Everybody knows that it is not okay but nobody has done anything. I discussed with the NRPB the issues that have to be resolved: the resettlement of people, finding land to build their homes, solving the technical issues and creating an establishment-agreement that is necessary to enable the execution of projects by people from the World Bank who are working on St. Maarten.”

Knops also addressed the slow progress of projects financed from the Trust Fund at the World Bank with a reference to the reconstruction efforts at the airport. “The delay with that project has nothing to do with the World Bank. Internal factors in St. Maarten are the reason that the project is heavily delayed.”

Knops said that the COHO is a vehicle to realize a list of political ambitions. “That list is long so we will have to prioritize. It means doing reform together with the government but also creating opportunities for innovation to make St. Maarten ready for the future. That is not a short-term project; it will take a long time.”

Knops dismissed fears for a World Bank-effect at the COHO. “The COHO is not the World Bank and it has to deliver results. I want to see results because I am not a pencil pusher; I am a man of action. How long it will take? I don’t know but I hope we can start soon with reform.”

Knops briefly addressed the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine. “It is important that as many people as possible get vaccinated but we have said that vaccination is not mandatory. However, if everybody takes his or her responsibility we can help each other. I call on everyone to take part in the vaccination program.”

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