Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte conveyed his and The Hague’s “deep worries” about the state of finances in St. Maarten to St. Maarten’s Council of Ministers on Thursday.
Rutte, who is on his first official visit to St. Maarten as Prime Minister, reported on his meeting with the six ministers at a press conference held jointly with St. Maarten Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams late Thursday. He said parties had had a lengthy discussion on concerns the Dutch have about financial and integrity issues in St. Maarten.
Rutte “made it clear” to the Council, that “it is extremely important” for St. Maarten to establish its 2013 budget “as soon as possible.” Every effort is now being made to have this done, he added. “I think that’s extremely important,” he said.
Lengthy discussions were held about integrity issues in the country. He informed the Council that Governor Eugene Holiday had been requested to conduct an independent inquiry into the issue of integrity here (see related story).
Rutte visited with a delegation from the Dutch business community. His meetings ran behind schedule, as his flight had been delayed.
Wescot-Williams told reporters Rutte’s visit had provided “a good opportunity” for the various ministers to provide him with an overview of their respective ministries and to highlight their plans for moving forward.
She said Rutte also had been quite interested in the matters St. Maarten had highlighted as its priorities, such as the finances of government and issues related to the Justice Ministry. She said it had been important to apprise the Dutch Prime Minister of developments in St. Maarten and for him to have a first-hand view of issues “playing” in the country.
She also touched on the trade possibilities that were a focus of Rutte’s visit. Wescot-Williams said a lot could be achieved in the area of trade relations and investment opportunities between St. Maarten and the Netherlands via the visiting business delegates.
“We believe that this is a first step in a plan and in a development that we would like to see continue in the future,” she told reporters. “We do recognise that this is also another part of the trip by the Prime Minister.”
A lot of discussions and negotiations already have taken place regarding the new constitutional setup of the Kingdom and it was not St. Maarten’s plan to discuss new constitutional constructions. “We are where we are today and I think in the case of St. Maarten, it’s about the socio-economic development of [the country – Ed.],” she noted.
Wescot-Williams looks forward to the strengthening of the economic relationship between St. Maarten and The Netherlands. Similar sentiments were expressed by Rutte, who said it was clear that St. Maarten was now a country that stood on its own feet within the Kingdom.
He said now was the time to explore what could be done to establish much stronger trade relations, particularly given that the six islands in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom have a close relationship with The Netherlands. He said all parties could work closely together and offer opportunities for opening gateways to Central and Latin America, which he sees as “very positive.”
Asked by another member of the press about the possibilities of debt relief Rutte said, “The books are closed.”
Minister of Public Housing, Environment, Spatial Planning and Infrastructure VROMI Maurice Lake spoke about his plans for a solid waste management facility during a visit to the Philipsburg landfill on Thursday afternoon. Lake informed the Dutch delegation that he would like to see the new facility up and running by mid-2015 and said he believed such a date was feasible if all parties worked towards it.
Edelmiro Jansen of the Ministry VROMI Department of Infrastructure Management explained the history behind the landfill and Ministry VROMI Acting Secretary-General Louis Brown provided information about plans for a solid waste management facility.