Published On: Tue, May 22nd, 2018

Who is fooling who?

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

A cornered cat tends to make unexpected and at times weird moves, a Dutch expression suggests. This applies to a certain extent to MP Frans Richardson whom one could label – with a stretch of the imagination – the minority opposition leader in our Parliament.

When Richardson launched his criticism on the interim-government last week with a diatribe about the lack of progress with the reconstruction of St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma he managed – in the best Trumpian tradition – to ignore a couple of obvious facts.

“The people of St. Maarten have not received financial relief,” is part of Richardson’s statement. Truth of the matter is that “the people” aren’t getting any cash in their hands from the 470 million parked in the trust fund at the World Bank; everybody knows that. In that sense this remark is not only meaningless but also misleading because it suggests that this is somehow the government’s fault.

But money did come to St. Maarten for recovery projects. The Netherlands provided €55 million in emergency assistance last year; €7 million went to early recovery projects and another €44 million to projects outside the control of the World Bank. These are numbers released by State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations). Altogether €106 million ($125 million at the current rate of exchange) already came to the island.

And then there is Richardson’s remark that “liquidity grants have become loans.” Also a nice twist: there never were liquidity grants, there was only liquidity-support. Thar money is indeed a loan, but Richardson omits to point out that this is a zero-interest loan and that St. Maarten does not have to pay anything back for the first five years; after that, the country has 25 years to repay the money.

Apparently, MP Richardson opposes the involvement of the World Bank. “We warned that by choosing the use the World Bank as a go-between for a supposedly equal partner in the Kingdom, would delay much needed funds for St. Maarten,” the leader of the United St. Maarten party said in his statement last week.

I understand why a politician like Richardson does not like the involvement of the World Bank. This organization uses strict rules, for instance for procurement – the purchase of goods and services for the reconstruction.

We all know that MP Richardson is a suspect in the Emerald and the Squid investigations. On June 11 he will appear in court for a first pro forma hearing. Emerald is about contractors who fleeced the harbor of millions of dollars with invoices for work they never did. The World Bank won’t let such shenanigans pass.

The prosecutor’s office suspects Richardson of taking $370,000 in bribes, tax fraud and membership of a criminal organization whose objective was to buy votes for the USp during the 2016 elections.

That background explains Richardson’s position with regard to the involvement of the World Bank in the reconstruction of St. Maarten. Politicians won’t be able to touch the money from the trust fund – and that is in the interest of the people who suffered from Hurricane Irma.

That it takes more time to get projects going because of the World Bank’s involvement is understandable. These guys want to do things the right way, not the St. Maarten way. To suggest however, as Richardson did, that “St. Maarten in its current state would have major difficulties in meeting World Bank criteria” is ludicrous.

Yeah, we’ll have to familiarize ourselves with those World Bank procedures. That takes time, but it isn’t exactly rocket science.

I’m not here to defend the government or Finance Minister Ferrier; they are very well capable to take care of themselves. I’m here to separate fact and fiction. My experience is that Ferrier has always been realistic about the recovery fund and the involvement of the World Bank. That he too is frustrated with the time it takes to get things going is understandable. But that is quite something else than misleading the people.

Good old Louie Laveist had a point when he wrote a theater play with the tile: “Who is fooling who?”