Published On: Wed, Oct 23rd, 2019

Ombudsman presents community Outreach report on the progress of Home Repair to Parliament

PHILIPSBURG — In 2019, the Ombudsman Gwendolien Mossel and her team embarked on an initiative with the objective of reaching out to the general public, in particular, the most vulnerable in the society. Over the past months, with the assistance of the community councils, town hall meetings were held in Dutch Quarter, Philipsburg (Downstreet), Cay Hill, South Reward, Belvedere and St. Peters.

The objective of the town hall meetings was twofold: to spread awareness about the institution of the Ombudsman and bring attention to the Community Outreach program in order for persons to share their personal experience relating to roof/home repair, as result of the damages suffered from Hurricane Irma.

Following the town hall meetings, a number of residents signed up to be interviewed. The comprehensive report is a culmination of these interviews as well as the information received from various stakeholders regarding the various roof and home repair projects.

In the report entitled: ‘Home Repair. A revelation of a social crisis’, the Ombudsman concludes that the slow pace of home repair reveals and compounds the already weak social infrastructure. This was also highlighted by her predecessor and the National Ombudsman of the Netherlands in July of last year. A joint letter was sent to Prime Ministers Leona Romeo-Marlin of Sint Maarten and Mark Rutte of the Netherlands expressing concerns regarding the slow pace of the reconstruction.

The reasons for the delay have been well documented; Sint Maarten’s lack of operational staff and expertise as well as the World Bank’s bureaucratic, complex and time-consuming procedures. In the interim many persons continue to live in dismal conditions, after having completed multiple assessments, two years and counting, many with little or no other prospects for improvement. In the report, the Ombudsman also touches on the lack of social/affordable housing on the island and the challenges of the Sint Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF), the Transitional Shelter and the need for improved post-disaster planning.

Based on the findings presented in the report, the Ombudsman provided the following recommendations:
– The present pace of Home Repair must be improved;
– Government should review the criteria for eligibility for home repair, taking extenuating circumstances into consideration;
– The need for proper data gathering and analysis, in terms of the population, especially regarding the elderly and other vulnerable persons, on which effective planning and policies can be based. This type of information is vital, particularly in the event of a natural disaster when fast decision-making is necessary;
– There must be better controls and coordination by government on (international) organizations executing repair works to ensure the quality of the work carried out;
– The National ordinance financial assistance must be reviewed and adjusted to tackle the challenges that persons currently face when transitioning from a temporary shelter/housing back into society;
– The need for affordable housing must be addressed with absolute urgency. While this is primarily the task of SMHDF, government has an equally important role based on international human rights law, specifically the right to adequate housing;

The final report is available via download on the Ombudsman’s website www.ombudsmansxm.com under the ‘reports and articles’ tab. To complement the report a short film, with the same title, has been produced. The film will be officially launched on Friday, October 25th at 11:00 AM during a press conference at the Bureau Ombudsman.

The film will also be released via the Ombudsman’s Facebook page on Friday evening at 7:00 PM and via the Bureau’s YouTube channel (Ombudsman SxM Sint Maarten) at 8:00 PM. [Editor’s note: below is the actual video itself.]

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