Sunfed chairman advises new fund “tread carefully”

POSTED: 06/8/12 12:52 PM

GREAT BAY- The umbrella body for many of the social organizations on the island, St. Maarten United Non-governmental Federation (SUNFED) has appealed to the government to tread wisely in it establishment of the St. Maarten Development Fund (SDF). As the successor to the Antillean Co-financing agency (AMFO), the SDF will now be tasked with sourcing funding and administering it to non-governmental organizations for developmental projects as of August 1.
“We respect the political opinion in starting up our own funding agency. It is right for us to support that. But there are many things that St. Maarten did not put in place, so we now have to tread very softly and be diligent in setting up the funding agency,” chairperson for SUNFED, Alberto Bute said in reacting to Wednesday’s signing of the notarial deed establishing the foundation.
Bute explained that over the past year, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been in discussions with the prime minister, where several concerns were raised as it related to the setting up of the local funding agency. He reasoned that as the agency progressed from a mere idea to its official establishment on Wednesday, he expected that the social organizations would have been involved.
“We thought that we would have at least been invited to also witness the signing of this historic moment at the notary, so that we could bring this message across to our membership. However now that it has passed, it is now time for the involvement of the NGOs and private sector to have good plans and programs in place.”
Bute’s latter statement expressed the wishes of Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams as she called for an integrated approach, premised on the involvement of the NGOs and the business community for SDF’s development, on Wednesday.
Some of the concerns that SUNFED has, are that St.Maarten does not possess the necessary knowledge to effectively set up and run a funding agency.
“All of this knowledge lies with AMFO. St. Maarten never took it upon herself to really become acquainted with its own affairs. How are you going to acquire that knowledge without bringing any interruptions or without affecting organizations that are currently under AMFO,” Bute said.
The lack of history as a funding agency may also prove a challenge for newcomer SDF, Bute believes.
“This is one of the definite setbacks that we will have a country for the next four to five years. Having no history, makes it even more difficult to engage international funding agencies for funding on behalf of third parties.”
He recommended that the SDF not limit itself to sourcing funding from the Dutch government only, but look for international opportunities in Europe and North America, which would improve the chances of local NGOs receiving financing.
The prime minister has said that SDF will be seeking a working agreement with existing financial agencies such as Amfo and Scanfonds as part of the transition from Dutch aid. While the establishment of the SDF is being applauded, Bute does not believe it reflects the solution needed to address acute social problems on the island.
“We are only substituting for Amfo but we haven’t dealt with the overall social dilemma on St. Maarten. It is not doing the people of this side of the Kingdom any justice.”
The board of the SDF is made up of three women, two of whom are civil servants. Apart from suggesting a more balanced gender representation on the board, Bute is also advocating that government takes hands off approach to the funding agency. If this does not happen, it could negatively impact the on SDF’s development, he believes.
“It can only work against the funding agency once they go abroad for funding. I hope there is not too much influence coming from a certain side. Civil servants may have a different mindset. A more balanced representation on this board is what I would like to see. We represent those who are in the field and we would also like to have some direct involvement in the process.”

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