Dutch minister Spies commends St. Maarten government on financial progress


~ Says work needed for Justice ~

PHILIPSBURG--Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies had high praise for how far the country has come with its financial administration, such as the preparation of the draft 2012 budget. However, there is still "a lot of work to do," in particular in the area of the Justice Ministry.

Speaking at a press conference Monday evening, she commended Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and Finance Minister Hiro Shigemoto on their and the cabinet's work in general to comply with the regulations governing the preparation of a balanced budget. Parliament will start its debate on the budget on February 22.

The Dutch Minister said she had "great appreciation" for the progress made so far in St. Maarten, in spite of its rocky start. "If I look at the improvements you've made during the last one and a half years, it's really been a great job."

Comparing the progress in the financial administration of the country with its status last year, when the budget was not approved until June, Spies said Wescot-Williams and Shigemoto "really deserve a big compliment. ... It is great to see that you are working so hard to get a solid financial base for your government, because that's in the interest of the inhabitants of St. Maarten."

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, who was in the joint press conference with Spies, said the meetings had gone on longer than anticipated, because Spies had to be brought up to speed, in particular on the Plans of Approach. Those plans cover the build-up of the Justice Ministry and the upgrading of the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI, Legal Affairs and the Civil Registry, which fall under the Ministry of General Affairs.

The Prime Minister explained that more time was needed on the plans, because the current quarterly report charts from July to September. She said consideration had been requested for the challenges St. Maarten faced when the plans met with the reality of implementation. The possibility for adjusting the plans is there and will be looked into when the ministers meet again at the end of March.

Following the constitutional changes within the Kingdom on October 10, 2010, Spies said, all parties have their own tasks, but also need to cooperate as much as possible. Cooperation among the countries in the kingdom was one of the areas discussed with Justice Minister Roland Duncan. There is much need to improve the Justice System, Spies said, adding that a "severe discussion" on the way forward for Justice had been had with Duncan.

As for Duncan's position that The Netherlands is not living up to all it promised to aid in the build-up of the fairly new country, Spies said it was not only what Duncan wanted. "It is also what we ask from St. Maarten, because I am convinced that we made plans of approach ... and on some of these parts also the government of St. Maarten should and could improve things they are doing."

Spies said the focus of the meetings had not been on what had gone wrong in the past, but what could be improved for the future. "It [makes] no sense looking backwards all the time. ... We want to look forward and we tried to draw conclusions about improvements on the subject of Justice; for example on ICT, prison and police capacity."

Asked whether any concrete agreements had been brokered on the way forward, Spies said more concrete agreements had been made on the plans of approach. Both the local government and Spies will pursue matters with counterparts in the scope of cooperation and whether Duncan is prepared to join in certain approaches or not.

Spies said she was using this trip to the Dutch Caribbean to become acquainted with the six islands and their ministers. "I hope that this trip will yield a basis that we can use during the next years to cooperate, because this is what it is all about in our kingdom," she said.

She said the visit had provided an opportunity to become acquainted with the ministers of St. Maarten and the other islands and to form a better basis for cooperation. "This way it is earlier to make a phone call, send an e-mail or have a video conference. ... This intensifies our personal relations, so that we can cooperate on the various subjects," she said.

The visit and meetings with St. Maarten officials helped Spies "to get more colour" about the situation here. Her first impressions were formed only from documents and meetings with Minister Plenipotentiary Mathias Voges, "but to really talk with each other, to really discuss the problems St. Maarten is coping with gives a lot more colour to the information I already have. I think it is a visit that will pay itself out."

Ending her statement, Spies said she was a little disappointed that so much time had been taken up by meetings, as she had been looking forward very much to seeing more of the country. She heads to Saba today, Tuesday.

Spies, who has been in her post for just two months now, met with the Council of Ministers and discussed a number of topics related to the continued building up of the country. She also met with Governor Eugene Holiday after last evening's press conference in Dr. A.C. Wathey Legislative Hall.

Spies was appointed to her post when her predecessor Piet Hein Donner was appointed Vice-President of the Council of State.