Marijke Linthorst: “I don’t know where we would find the money” Senators divided about additional debt relief

POSTED: 01/11/13 12:26 PM

Delegation leader Marijke Linthorst (l) in discussion with two visitors to the meet and greet at the Cultural Center. Photo Today / Milton Pieters.

St. Maarten – While Finance Minister Roland Tuitt maintains that there is still a chance for St. Maarten to get a piece of the never collected debt relief program, Marijke Linthorst, leader of a delegation of visiting Dutch senators took that illusion away when she spoke with this newspaper yesterday evening during a well-attended meet and greet at the cultural center in Philipsburg. “It stops somewhere,” the chair of the First Chamber’s Kingdom Relations committee said. “In two years time St. Maarten did not manage to put the receipts for those debts on the table.”

Linthorst pointed out that the Netherlands is going through a financial crisis whereby the government is forced to take severe austerity measures. “Even if the Second Chamber decided to pay the rest of the debt relief program, I would not know where they would find the money for it,” she said.

When St. Maarten obtained autonomy, the Netherlands was prepared to pay the island up to 183 million guilders to settle old debts. But St. Maarten only collected 65 million of these funds. The rest of the payments never materialized because the finance department did not manage to prove that other debts existed. The remaining funds have been returned to the Dutch general budget and according to Linthorst they are now out of reach.

Told that Finance Minister Tuitt claims that he has received positive signals from The Hague about possible additional payments, Linthorst said: “I don’t know where he got that, but certainly not from the Finance Ministry.”

There are however also other opinions about this issue. Ben Swagerman, a VVD-senator who knows the Antilles well because he worked as a public prosecutor in Curacao from 1994 to 1997, and later as attorney general from 2000 until 2003, told this newspaper that St. Maarten has not run out of options yet.

“I don’t think the door is entirely closed on debt relief. Of course, an agreement is an agreement, but you have to be realistic and look at the situation. St. Maarten has to build up its own institutions and it has to build a governing culture. That is a challenge. I think we’ll have to look at possibilities to solve that.”

Swagerman said that during his stint as attorney general he traveled to St. Maarten from Curacao once a month. After his return to the Netherlands he kept following developments on the islands. “The trick is to work together as much as possible,” he says about the country’s current situation. “What I find positive is that people from Saba and Statia are able to travel to St. Maarten’s hospital for medical treatment.”

Delegation-leader Linthorst said that the visit to the islands has two objectives. We want to see for ourselves what goes well and what doesn’t, especially in the BES-islands. As for the autonomous countries, we want to examine to what point it is possible to work together in the fields of healthcare and education. We want to see how we are able to strengthen that cooperation.”

Linthorst said that the Netherlands has an interest in helping St. Maarten with the expansion of its hospital, because this is also an issue that affects the citizens in the Dutch public entities Statia and Saba. “What we are saying is that the specialists that work in the hospital must be working for the hospital, and not in private clinics. Otherwise they are cherry-picking the treatments they are making the most money on for their own clinics.”

Linthorst sees that same cherry-picking also as a real issue with the possible arrival of a clinic designed for medical tourism.

“It would be a good development if the autonomous partners in the Kingdom examine what we are able to develop together, something that will benefit us all,” Linthorst said. “Aruba is the furthest with this.”

The seven senators arrived yesterday late in the afternoon in St. Maarten for what is basically a fact-finding mission. At the Cultural Center the senators met with citizens like Raymond Jesserun, but also with Leopold James, Miguel Arrindell and Henri Brookson. The President of Parliament Rodolphe Samuel was at hand, together with his Secretary General Joseph Semeleer.

Peter van Dijk, a senator for Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party VVD said that he enjoyed the meeting with the citizens. “This way you hear about the concerns of the common people,” he said.

Today the senators pay a visit to Governor Holiday, the police force and the government. They will have lunch with Members of Parliament and make an island tour in the afternoon.

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Comments (1)

 

  1. Bas Roorda says:

    The VVD is certainly not Geert Wilders freedom party as stated in the article. I hope the editor meant PVV in stead of VVD.
    I admit: Its a little confusing..