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DH | Decision imminent on Trust Fund extension

~ Opening local World Bank office projected for June ~

The Trust Fund Steering Committee during a visit to St. Maarten in December 2021. On the left, St. Maarten Steering Group member Marcel Gumbs, with next to him, Steering Committee member for the Netherlands Frans Weekers. Third from left is World Bank Country Director for the Caribbean and Chair of the Steering Committee Lilia Burunciuc. (Photo by National Recovery Program Bureau NRPB)

THE HAGUE–A decision is expected shortly on the request of the St. Maarten government to extend the duration of the St. Maarten Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience Trust Fund by 24 to 36 months. The hope is that the local World Bank office can open this June.

Trust Fund Steering Committee member for the Netherlands Frans Weekers announced during a technical briefing in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday that he has advised Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations and Digitisation Alexandra van Huffelen to extend the Trust Fund’s duration.

Weekers informed the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations that the extension was discussed during a meeting of the Steering Committee last week, in the presence of St. Maarten Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs. The World Bank, which manages the Trust Fund on behalf of its donor, the Dutch government, will come with a concrete proposal in this regard.

The extension will have to be within the budget and will have to be well-substantiated, said Weekers. “It has to be both realistic and ambitious to avoid people sitting on their hands and prevent activities from being postponed. It is also about solid and sustainable results,” he said. He said the extension was needed because of a number of long-term projects.

Weekers called the lack of a World Bank office in St. Maarten a “great shortcoming.” For several years now, the World Bank has had to “fly its people in and out,” which is costly and inefficient. “We have been intensively discussing opening a local World Bank office for several years,” he said.

Immunity

For this to happen, the World Bank needs an establishment agreement that regulates immunity matters and fiscal immunity, said Weekers. “Without this, the World Bank cannot open an office and station its people in St. Maarten.”

Weekers said he was informed by Prime Minister Jacobs last week that the concerned legislation was now in the last phase and would be handled soon by the St. Maarten Parliament. “A fast approval is anticipated and we hope that when the Steering Group meets in St. Maarten in June, we will be able to cut the ribbon of the new office.”

According to Weekers, it is especially important to “have boots on the ground.” “Having an office will mean an enormous acceleration of activities,” he said, noting that this would enable a speedier handling of logistics because officials of both the World Bank and the St. Maarten government would be able to meet in person.

Member of Parliament (MP) Jorien Wuite of the Democratic Party D66 said the pending opening of the World Bank office in St. Maarten was good news. She asked if the office would have a strategic function beyond the Trust Fund and how this office, as well as the extension of the Trust Fund, would come into play in an acceleration of the disbursements and implementation of projects.

Adjusting procedures

World Bank Country Director for the Caribbean and Chair of the Steering Committee Lilia Burunciuc during the technical briefing confirmed that the office would only be for the Trust Fund’s implementation phase. As for the accelerating of projects and disbursement, Burunciuc said that the World Bank was working on how to accomplish this by adjusting its procedures and implementing standards that were less complex. “Believe me, this is high on our agenda, not only for St. Maarten, but also for other islands.”

Both Burunciuc and Weekers noted that a three-year extension of the Trust Fund term would not be sufficient for long-term, “complex” initiatives such as the solid waste management, wastewater management and social housing, for which large capital investments are needed, as well as structural, institutional reforms and changes in regulations and policy.

Weekers explained that large capital investments were needed, for example, in order to increase the connection rate of households and businesses to a wastewater system from the current 25 per cent to 45-50 per cent. That investment would have to come from the St. Maarten government in combination with a grant from the Trust Fund.

However, this investment would not cover the tackling of wastewater on the Cole Bay/Simpson Bay side, where a wastewater treatment plant has to be built. “It would be nice to do this with the French side, but that is an issue. There is still a lot to do, also in an area like renewable energy, but we do not have sufficient means in the Trust Fund to do all that,” said Weekers.

Difficult decisions

Constructing a sustainable solid waste management system and a wastewater treatment system not only require large investments, but also come with “difficult political decisions” such as implementing a waste fee and a logistical need to establish a waste management authority.

“It means that people will have to pay for these services. You need to not only construct these systems, but you also need to manage and maintain them. Issues like how you prevent another debris mountain from rising in your town are important. How do you get people to pay, how do you secure control at the dump gate, how do you make sure that medical and chemical waste is not mixed with organic waste?” said Weekers.

Burunciuc assured MP Joba van den Berg of the Christian Democratic Party CDA that the World Bank was working in a sustainable manner with long-term benefits, and the transfer of knowledge to St. Maarten authorities. “We make sure that what we put in place is durable,” she said.

“We hope that the Trust Fund has lasting results and that St. Maarten can serve as an example and in the future can even help others with the knowledge that has been built in this area,” said Burunciuc, who complimented St. Maarten for doing a “good job” in putting the organisation in place to implement the Trust Fund projects. “The performance of the Trust Fund is relatively high, especially when compared to other countries.”

Bron: Daily Herald

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