Upgrade Dutch Quarter delayed, not forgotten

POSTED: 03/12/15 12:48 PM

European subsidy-millions remain available until December 5

St. Maarten – What happened to the European funds St. Maarten supposedly received for the upgrading of Dutch Quarter? Former Vromi-Minister William Marlin announced at a “simply yet significant signing ceremony” on the De Weever property on June 25, 2012 that the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) had committed €4.75 million ($6.1 million) to the project and the government put up an additional 1,73 million ($2.25 million). This was, as Marlin said at the time, “to give Dutch Quarter what it has been promised for years.”

“Today we bring what has been promised for years. Dutch Quarter will also get a completely new road. This is not the start of the project though, today we sign off on the funding. When we kick off the project, it will be a good moment to invite the population of Dutch Quarter. Towards the end of 2014 it will be a brand new district.” Those were the words we heard that day in 2012 from Minister Marlin.

However, 2013 and 2014 came and went, 2015 has entered its third month and so far, the brand new road has not materialized, and other parts of the project are still on hold as well. The $8.3 million project would give Dutch Quarter an upgraded sewage system, a new road, proper street lights, pavements and a 1,000 cubic meter water tank.

Readers started asking this newspaper what had happened to all that money, because they sure did not see any of it being spent in Dutch Quarter. Fortunately, the news is not all bad: there have been delays, but the money has not disappeared and it is still available.

According to the press department for International Cooperation and Development at the European Union, “operational implementation of the available funds shall be concluded within four years of the signing of the financing agreement. This means the deadline is on December 5, 2017.”

This statement puts the event the government organized on June 25, 2012 in a rather awkward light. “Today we sign off on the funding,” Vromi-Minister Marlin said that day. However, the spokesman for International Cooperation and Development notes in his answer to our questions that the financing agreement was signed almost one-and-a-half year later, on December 5, 2013. Hence the deadline for the availability of the funds on December 5, 2017.

If the agreement had indeed been signed on June 25, 2012, that deadline would have come up in just a couple of months, on June 25 of this year.

In 2012, the European Union’s Ambassador to Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dutch overseas countries and territories Robert Kopecky was present when the government, in Marlin’s words “signed off on the funding.” Prime Minister Wescot-Williams, Public Health Minister Cornelius de Weever, Finance Minister Roland Tuitt and Economic Affairs Minister Romeo Pantophlet also showed up for the occasion.

Wescot-Williams was there as St. Maarten’s territorial authorizing officer for the EDF. She said that the project would benefit 3,000 residents. It was at the time scheduled to begin in January 2013 and be completed in December 2014.

However, on December 8, 2013, Wescot-Williams’ cabinet issued a press statement saying that the prime minister had signed the financing agreement in Brussels ‘last Friday’, which would have been December 7. The press statement noted that Wescot-Williams had entered into “wide-scale negotiations” before the deal was made.

“Securing the funds before the end of 2013 is a major accomplishment,” the press release furthermore stated, shedding again a different light on the signing ceremony of June 24, 2012. Wescot-Williams announced at the time “that there is still a lot of work to be done before the actual work can begin.”

Dutch Quarter resident realize by now how true these last words were. The work has not been completed yet; worse, it has not even started yet. Will it ever happen? According to the information from the European Union’s department for International Cooperation and Development, it will.

“In accordance with the financing agreement that was signed on December 5, 2013, the financial resources became available to Sint Maarten and the implementation of a project on sewerage was initiated. Sint Maarten will contribute €1.73 million. The initial procurement has experienced delays, which however have been rectified by the government of Sint Maarten, bringing the implementation of the project back on track.”

The spokesman furthermore presented a new deadline: the contract notice for the project has been published. “The deadline for receiving bids is March 30, 2015.”

The government of Sint Maarten will not get its hands on the European funds, so there is no risk of misappropriation it appears from further elucidation by the spokesman. “The financing agreement stipulates that Sint Maarten is in charge of all contracting, except for tasks concerning monitoring, external evaluation and audit. The (European) Commission is in charge of control of all procurement and grant procedures. Consequently all payments are done by the Commission on behalf of the government of Sint Maarten.”

Dutch Quarter now has a new deadline to look forward to. Once the bids are in by the end of this month, it ought to be possible to begin the work in June. Taking the project forward from that point on the calendar, Dutch Quarter could have the “brand new district” Vromi-Minister William Marlin promised back in 2012, by June 2017.

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