Published On: Tue, May 15th, 2018

Stellar reputation

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Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

You always have to pay attention when politicians start making statements that seem to be too good to be true – or realistic.

I definitely got a bit of that vibe from statements the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte made on Monday during his visit to St. Maarten.

First the positive news. Rutte repeated so often that he has confidence in Prime Minister Leona Marlin-Romeo that it started sounding like an advice to formateur Theo Heyliger. Rutte expressed his hope that Marlin-Romeo will also be the prime minister of the next government – currently under construction like almost everything else on the island.

At the end of the press conference at the airport on Monday afternoon Rutte even affectionately kissed Marlin-Romeo.

I definitely got the impression that our prime minister has built herself a stellar reputation in The Hague and that signals a détente in the previously so tense relationship between Philipsburg and The Hague.

But that’s about where the good news ends. Mind you, I’m not saying that Rutte’s praise for our prime minister is unimportant – on the contrary; St. Maarten could benefit from a good relationship with the kingdom and in particular with the Netherlands.

But here’s the thing: where are those benefits? Oh sure, the Netherlands made €550 million available for the recovery efforts; 470 million is currently sitting in the trust fund at the World Bank. And let’s not forget: this is a gift. St. Maarten is rightfully grateful for this gesture.

But we all know that that recovery fund is not enough to put St. Maarten back where it was on September 5, 2017. We all know that we have problems of a serious magnitude with, in particular, the dump, the prison and the police force.

And while our government is doing its utmost – a bit like rowing with oars it does not have – the Netherlands is seemingly taking a backseat when it comes to solving these immediate problems.

The hole in the budget of near 200 million guilders is impossible to plug on our own strength, but the kingdom will not offer budget support – only liquidity support.

If that inevitable help comes, it could be in the form of the liquidity support the kingdom offered  for the 2017 budget – a zero-interest loan of 50 million guilders with no obligation to pay anything back during the first five years. After that, payback has to be done in 25 years – or at a pace of 2 million a year.

The 2018 liquidity support will be more serious – 100 million or even more. Under the same conditions, this will add another burden of 4 million per year to the annual budget for a very long time. All this with the rather idle hope that St. Maarten will not be hit by another major hurricane during the term of these loans.

State Secretary Knops may be “committed to remove the dump quickly” but he did not offer – so far – any idea how St. Maarten should go about it, nor did he offer any form of tangible help.

The remark that the Kingdom Council of Ministers is committed to work together is another one of those statements that sound good but don’t mean a lot.

At the end of the day, St. Maarten will have to solve its own problems.

The only comforting thought is that the kingdom will – most likely – not stand by idly when the country inevitably runs out of money in the fourth quarter of this year.