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St. Maarten parliament briefed about planned Dutch navy base

THURSDAY, 31 JANUARY 2013

PHILIPSBURG–Money to build and operate a marine base in St. Maarten is available in the budget of the Dutch Government; however, government would have to pitch in to allocate land close to the ocean for the base. The establishment of the base here was requested of the Dutch Government by Governor Eugene Holiday and Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams after St. Maarten became a country within the Dutch Kingdom. Similar bases are in Aruba and Curaçao.

Members of Parliament (MPs) were briefed about the planned construction of a marine base on St. Maarten by representatives of the Dutch Marines in a Central Committee meeting, chaired by Vice President of Parliament Romain Laville on Wednesday.

The plans for the base and its resulting social education programme for high school dropouts and troubled youngsters (age 18-24) were largely welcomed by MPs.

Democratic Party (DP) MP Leroy de Weever (DP) and United People’s (UP) Party MP Johan Leonard questioned the real reason why the Dutch military wants to set up a base in the country rather than in the Dutch public entities of Saba or St. Eustatius.

Brigadier General D.A. Swijgman of The Netherlands Naval Command in the Caribbean and Directorate of the Dutch Caribbean Coast Guard and Task Group 4.4 said that the request was made by the governor and prime minister to the Dutch Minister of Defence and he was following up on the order to set up the base. He urged MPs and government to look speedily at the base while funding is still available on the budget.

Due to massive defence budget cuts, the naval command in the Caribbean is the only part set to grow with a new base and the 26 personnel who will staff it. Six of those marines will be stationed in the country permanently; the remainder will be here on a rotating basis.

A space at the port of St. Maarten has been scouted as the ideal location for the base. Government and St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies will have to make an agreement for the use of the land with the Dutch Defence Ministry for the project to continue, Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Hofman explained. A further meeting with the harbour group is slated for February 22.

The first “quartermaster” from the marines should be in the country to begin preparations for the base by August, providing agreements are made for the land use. It is projected that the base will be operational by 2014.
Explaining the social education programme, Hofman outlined the work being carried out in Aruba and Curaçao. Youngsters are given 16 weeks of military training by members of the Aruba and Curaçao militia, who were specially trained by the marines. That is phase one of the programme, which is followed up by 30 weeks of education and preparation for employment. This is a voluntary programme with the aim of rehabilitating youngsters who would have been otherwise in trouble with the law or unemployable.

This education programme is paid for in Aruba by the Dutch Government via funding from The Netherlands. St. Maarten will have to work out how its programme will be funded. The cost per participant will be supplied to Parliament by the marines in the coming days.

The marines also suggested that the programme be administered under the prime minister, instead of being spread over several ministries to decrease bureaucracy.

Several laws will be requested to be amended or passed to establish the programme.
Youngsters carry out community service as a group during their training to help build self esteem and community pride.

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