Audit Chamber: Give priority to repair of homes, schools

 Audit Chamber: Give priority to repair of homes, schools

The Netherlands Red Cross has been providing much-needed assistance in St. Maarten since Hurricane Irma, including the fixing of homes, such as this one in Dutch Quarter, under its Roof Repair Project. (Photo: Dirk-Jan Visser/Red Cross)

THE HAGUE--The Dutch General Audit Chamber has advised to give priority to the repair of homes and schools in St. Maarten that still remain damaged after Hurricane Irma, and to make adaptations of the current work processes to achieve a speedy execution.

The Audit Chamber stated this in its analysis of the Dutch government contribution to St. Maarten’s reconstruction in the investigation of the 2019 annual report of the budgetary chapters on Kingdom Relations and the so-called BES Fund that covers the Caribbean Netherlands. The Audit Chamber submitted its report to the Dutch government and the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Friday.

The Audit Chamber concluded in its investigation – which was based on available documents – that the reconstruction of basic facilities for residents of St. Maarten is proceeding at a slow pace.

“Two and a half years after Hurricane Irma, the basic needs, such as a safe home, have not been realised for everyone in St. Maarten. Of the repaired homes, a considerable amount has not been fixed in a hurricane-proof manner. The reconstruction of damaged schools has not started yet,” it was stated.

“To make sure that people in St. Maarten can face the coming hurricane seasons with more confidence, a substantially different, much faster approach is needed for the activities that relate to the primary facilities for residents.”

That is why the Audit Chamber made the recommendation to Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, Raymond Knops to request, via the Dutch representative in the St. Maarten Recovery and Resilience Trust Fund, as well as St. Maarten and the World Bank, to give priority to the reconstruction of homes and schools.  

According to the Knops, in the 2019 annual report of Kingdom Relations, more than 1,100 homes were repaired with aid from the Netherlands. “The largest part, 669 homes were repaired by the Red Cross with funds from its own collection drive (Giro 555).”

 

Social homes

In the early recovery phase, 219 homes were repaired. With money from the Reconstruction Trust Fund, managed by the World Bank on behalf of the Dutch government, 109 social homes were repaired by the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF). Authorities are looking into the possibility to cover the cost for 119 other homes that were repaired through the SMHDF.

“Early 2020, the reconstruction works to 14 private homes of the first two batches were completed. Within these batches, 26 other private homes are being repaired. Until these homes have been completely repaired, the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) will not take in any new assistance requests for handling.”

In addition to the already repaired homes, efforts were undertaken to fix another 240 homes through projects of the SMHDF and the NRPB. The Red Cross’ roof repair programme was approved late December 2019 for an amount of US $3.6 million, aimed at fixing 200 homes. The Audit Chamber noted that it remained unclear whether after the planned repair works, everyone would have a hurricane-proof roof over their heads.

The Audit Chamber noted that a considerable number of homes repaired, were not fixed in a hurricane-proof manner. This is in contradiction to the Trust Fund’s principle of ‘Building Back Better’, meaning that buildings have to be able to withstand category five plus hurricanes.

The Red Cross, which took care of the lion’s share of repairing roofs in the island, indicated that it was not possible to repair all homes in a hurricane-proof manner, because to do so required more extensive reconstruction work. Obstructing factors were the issuing of permits and lack of clarity about the ownership of homes.

 

Schools

Reconstruction works of schools have not started. “Early 2020, the technical inspection for 17 damaged schools was completed. According to the planning, the NRPB will start the tendering process for reconstruction work in the second quarter of 2020. In addition, the Steering Group of the Trust Fund is expected to shortly approve a new project for the complete reconstruction of several schools.”

The Audit Chamber cited the late 2019 investigation of the St. Maarten Ombudsman into the repair of homes. The Ombudsman concluded that the slow speed of the reconstruction works with monies from the Trust Fund had resulted in a social crisis.

A so-called focus investigation by the Dutch General Audit Chamber late 2018 showed that in order to speed up the reconstruction, not only financial support was needed, but also support in the process of spending these monies.

The 2019 budget chapter on Kingdom Relations showed that in 2019 no additional funds were deposited in the Trust Fund. As a result of this, the general expenditures of this budget chapter dropped to 196.4 million euros. In 2018, the Netherlands deposited 262 million euros in the Trust Fund.

 

No deposits

According to the planning drafted upon initiation of the Trust Fund, the Netherlands was to deposit in total 470 million euros (US $548.5 million) in the fund in October 2019. However, the World Bank had not submitted a request to transfer the last two planned deposits, and consequently, the Dutch government has not transferred these tranches.

The fact that the allocated means increased from US $110.3 million late 2018 to US $219.6 million late 2019 mainly had to do with the Emergency Debris Management Project (US $25 million), the Airport Terminal Reconstruction (US $72 million) and the Red Cross Roof Repair Project (US $3.6 million).

The Audit Chamber reported that late 2019, the World Bank had paid US $ 46.1 million out of the Trust Fund, the majority of which (US $32 million) was distributed to the NRPB or directly to principals of reconstruction projects. The remaining US $14.1 million was paid to the World Bank.

Early 2020, in total US $22.3 million from the Trust Fund was actually spent on reconstruction projects. In its 2019 progress report the World Bank cited two main factors that hampered speedy implementation of reconstruction projects.

According to the World Bank, the political situation in St. Maarten, especially in the last quarter of 2019, caused a delay in the preparation of various reconstruction projects. The second factor was said to be the limited execution capacity and the scale of St. Maarten.

The NRPB still was not at its full personnel capacity early 2020 with a staff of only 24 of the required 45 persons. The World Bank stated that this under-capacity was a limiting factor in the progress of the reconstruction. As a temporary solution, the NRPB has hired external consultants.