After outcry in Today: Prime Minister announces meeting with Safe Haven

POSTED: 06/17/13 11:35 AM

St. Maarten – In a reaction to an article published in Today’s Thursday edition headlined “Amfo funds dry up-Safe Haven stops client intake,” Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams says that she will now meet with the foundation in an attempt to remedy the situation.

Speaking on her weekly radio show, One on One with the PM, that airs every Friday on 98.1 Pearl FM, the Prime Minister said that Safe Haven’s situation is disturbing. She admitted that the failure of the St. Maarten Development Fund (SDF) to disburse any social subsidies thus far has become “an issue,” which has been compounded in the fact that the 2013 Budget has still not been approved.

“The SMDF carries a great responsibility of being the administrator that provides funds from government and otherwise to social projects that have something to do with St. Maarten’s development. However the payment from government for that fund which has to go to different organizations is tied up in the issue of approval of the budget. I have taken note of several organizations that find themselves in some serious financial situations like Safe Haven and I expect to have discussions with Safe Haven, the SMDF and the Finance Department of government to see how we can tie over this particular period,” the Prime Minister said.

She was responding to an emailed question from a listener who queried whether the Fund’s lack of activity was anchored in the political stalemate or the 2013 Budget. The SDF is the successor of Antillean co-financing agency, Amfo, that after many years closed its program on St. Maarten on December 31. It was not a surprise move since Amfo was tasked with funding several social projects from non-governmental organizations here but with the intention that an autonomous St. Maarten would take over this unique responsibility for development when it became country. The SDF should have began administering funds since August 1, 2012. However the transition has not been smooth with Amfo’s departure and the SDF taking the lead role. Several foundations have criticized what they called the government’s lack of preparedness to handle the
demands of the social sector and NGOs. The foundations were heavily subsidized, and when Amfo’s funding reached its maturity, several foundation had to make sweeping changes to the way they provide social services.
The Victorious Living Foundation’s mentorship class was severely affected and with operational costs increasing, the foundation decided to temporarily close its headquarters on Back Street. The No Kidding with our Kids Foundation- Afternoon School Activities (ASA) was also hurt. That foundation has had to slash its human resource capacity by more than half, and reduce the number of children in various districts who benefit from the afternoon school program.

Meanwhile the Ahead Centre for Excellence-a school which specializes in autistic children- decided to close the doors of it’s school in Suckergarden and move to a smaller facility, at the Belvedere Community Center. The institution could no longer to pay rent and also had to turn away children with learning disabilities who could not afford to pay school fees. Teachers had to be cut by 50 percent and the teacher re-certification program became a thing of the past.

All of these stories, Today reported on. Now Safe Haven is the latest casualty. The Prime Minister insists that its all about the Budget: “Government allocated over 3 million guilders and the SDF also has to seek additional funding. I acknowledge right now that we have an issue because right now money cannot be disbursed.”
Foundations view the money allocated by government as too little and have since taken steps to launch several fund raising drives to ensure their survival. The St. Maarten United Non-governmental Federation (Sunfed), in an interview with this paper in June 2012, had warned
that if the government did not tread carefully with its establishment of the SDF, the social sector could be handicapped.

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