DH | Trust Fund Steering Committee wants to see ‘all hands on deck’

Frans Weekers and Tahseen Sayed Khan on SXM | Daily Herald

CAY HILL–The Steering Committee of the St. Maarten Recovery Trust Fund, which is financed by the Dutch Government and managed by the World Bank, is holding its biannual meeting in St. Maarten this week.

World Bank Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Region Tahseen Sayed Khan said the Steering Committee is very cognisant of the fact that certain projects need to be fast-tracked, but added that due diligence is required.

Besides Khan, the Steering Committee comprises former Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs as St. Maarten’s representative and former State Secretary of Finance Frans Weekers as representative of the Netherlands.

Gumbs explained that the steering committee has the final say in all decisions and proposed projects being prepared within the framework of the Recovery Trust Fund. He said none of the committee members hold power over the others and that decisions have to be reached by consensus.

He said Thursday that the steering committee held its intermittent meeting in St. Maarten for the past two days. The committee met the last time in St. Maarten in November 2018.

Initially, the committee was supposed to meet twice a year, but in the meantime this has been increased to four meetings per year – two informal meetings in St. Maarten and two official meetings at the World Bank in Washington D.C. “in order to expedite the process of decision-making,” as Gumbs put it.

Khan said that as Trust Fund manager it is the World Bank’s “very strong” commitment to enhance outreach and engagement with the media, stakeholders and Country St. Maarten now that the Steering Committee has its “boots on the ground” with a senior liaison officer posted in St. Maarten and an office for Trust Fund management to be opened here soon.

Khan, who thanked the Netherlands for entrusting the World Bank with managing the Trust Fund, said the institution wants to convey the three parties’ very strong commitment to the reconstruction and recovery of St. Maarten led by the government, very strongly financially supported by the Netherlands, and managed by the World Bank on the technical and due-diligence side.

“For the next six years this group is here to stay to help as much as possible. An important manifestation of the speed in which the Steering Committee wants to move forward is that in the past months since the signing of the Trust Fund in April 2018 four projects with a value of approximately US $120 million were approved, among which one for the National Institute for Professional Advancement (NIPA), where close to 900 people have been trained under the Emergency Income Support and Training Programme.”

Khan said the interaction with students under this programme, which the World Bank visited in October 2018, had been phenomenal: “Such desire to learn new things and their desire to go back into the economy when the hospitality industry opens up was really encouraging,” she said.

The Steering Committee agreed on Wednesday on fast-tracking the roofing-repair programme for 109 homes through the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation and advancing the procurement for 350 more roofs in the coming months.

Lack of speed

The roofing-repair programme is part of the short-term recovery projects, whereas other projects take more time. Khan said there are a lot of questions about the lack of speed in which recovery projects are being implemented.

“After a national disaster, emergency support is very rapid, everybody comes. This happens the world over – everyone comes with tents, with food, medicines, with whatever is needed,” but when it comes to reconstruction the process slows down, because certain issues are very long-standing. She mentioned debris as an example. “This was not caused because of the hurricane, it was just exaggerated because of the hurricane,” Khan stated.

Certain things require longer-term preparation, according to the World Bank’s regional director. She shared “very openly” that the Steering Committee is very cognisant of the fact that certain projects need to be fast-tracked, but added that due diligence is required.

“That is why you brought in the World Bank: because due diligence is on how people are resettled when moved from one place to the other and how the procurement is done. The procedures have to be in line with the principles of transparency, accountability and how the technical designs take place. That is called ‘how to build back better’; that is really the key thing and that is why we bring knowledge, not only from the region but globally, for the reconstruction efforts.”

Commitment

The World Bank has a commitment to deliver and to deliver quality, Khan assured, in pointing out that the World Bank delivered where it could, such as with the Emergency Income Support and Training Programme and the plans for the construction of a new hospital for St. Maarten. “We are expediting as much as possible,” she said.

Weekers said the World Bank is doing a very difficult job. He said the Bank’s expertise is very much needed, as well as the social, environmental and judicial safeguards it is putting in place, including the procurement of projects, to ensure that the money invested in these projects is very well spent.

He said that in the Netherlands and in St. Maarten there is a lack of expertise and capacity to do so and the World Bank can literally fly in to provide such expertise.

He said the cooperation between the steering group partners is excellent. “We are very committed to do the job for the people in St. Maarten and it was an excellent idea that the decision-making has to be based on consensus. We discuss a lot and we ask a lot of questions and at the end of the day, even though each of us comes from a different geographical region and each of us has a different background, put together that improves the quality of decision-making.”

Weekers said that despite the fact the Steering Committee convenes four times per year, its members are “24-7” committed to their task, to which their numerous e-mails, WhatsApp messages and video-conferences are testimony.

Among the biggest challenges faced by the Steering Committee is the remediation of the sanitary landfill, said Weekers. “In the upcoming weeks and months, the people of St. Maarten will see some actions on the dump, among which is the spraying of cement to more or less seal the dump to suppress fires.”

Khan said there are a lot of questions and concerns about the dump, “and rightly so, but it has been a problem that’s been there for a few decades and then literally flared up after the hurricanes.”

Nonsense

Weekers said the Steering Committee is committed to financing the reconstruction of the terminal at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA). He said that since mid-2018 the Steering Committee has been involved with this project and set some conditions which were agreed on by the government of St. Maarten pertaining to integrity checks and expertise.

“Our conclusion this morning was that all parties are committed to proceed. What is needed very urgently is a bridge loan which has been provided by the government of St. Maarten. There will also be provided a bridge loan by the Dutch government. We have to see that as a part of the total package of the Trust Fund and the European Investment Bank.

“I hope the teams can move forward very quickly where the airport is concerned. The World Bank is finalising their studies, the appraisal documents are being reviewed and we are confident that quite soon this will lead to a package that will lead to a quick and proper rebuilding of the terminal.”

Weekers said the airport is considered vital to the economy of St. Maarten, and said in response to voices claiming that the Dutch want to take over the airport, “That’s complete nonsense and far away from the truth. The only objective of the Dutch government, and also from my perspective, is that the money we put in the airport is spent in the best way in order to get the excellent terminal and airport of St. Maarten back on track in order to help the economy further.”

Taking into consideration the island’s size and the level of reconstruction requirements and the level of financing on the table, “it has to be all hands domestically available on deck, and regionally too, because the country needs partnerships not just with the ministries implementing, but also with the private sector or better-placed foundations. We are open to bring those in as co-partners,” Khan explained.

Earlier this month, the Council of Ministers appointed former Member of Parliament Claret Connor as director of St. Maarten’s National Recovery Programme Bureau. Once staffed and housed, the Programme Bureau will be responsible for the day-to-day preparation, coordination, execution and evaluation of the projects financed from the Trust Fund, which consists of 550 million euros made available by the Dutch government.

The Programme Bureau, which was established by law by the Parliament of St. Maarten, will assume the tasks currently executed by civil servants in the Interim Recovery Committee. The Programme Bureau will be charged with the full preparation of projects before these are presented through the Council of Ministers and the World Bank for approval.

Connor said this has been his first full week on the job and said sitting in on the Steering Group meetings has helped him understand the process of decision-making for the execution of programmes and the role in which the Programme Bureau can take part in these processes.

He said it was very import for the Bureau to support the Steering Committee, the overseeing institution for the project, to ensure the way in which they understand the projects to be executed goes exactly as planned.

“It is something the country wants to see moving forward more, with more activity coming from the Trust Fund, but it’s all necessary to do it correctly because it is the monies of the hardworking taxpayers of the Netherlands, which we really appreciate a lot,” Connor said.

Bron: Daily Herald

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