PHILIPSBURG:--- The Government of Sint Maarten would like to address the two articles regarding the Sint Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF) that were published in The Daily Herald earlier this week. In these articles, SMHDF expressed its disappointment about the funding allocation decisions of the Sint Maarten Trust Fund.
Since the inception of the Trust Fund in 2018, 369 SMHDF units have been repaired, totaling US$ 1.06 Million. Worth noting is that the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) is making the final preparations to refurbish the 64 Belvedere tower apartments. These repairs, which have an estimated value of US$ 5.4 Million, have already been tendered and are scheduled to commence in the next few months. As it relates to the announcement of SMHDF to increase the rent of their tenants, the Government will be seeking further information from SMHDF.
With respect to the statement of SMHDF that it was never asked to meet with the Steering Committee “to properly present its case and explain the reasons why funding is so important”, the Government wishes to clarify that the procedures to submit proposals to the Steering Committee are formally set. Once the Council of Ministers supports a proposal that has received the necessary technical input from stakeholders, it is submitted to the Steering Committee for consideration. The representative of Sint Maarten in the Steering Committee receives instructions through the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers on the position of the Government in the Steering Committee. Third parties are not offered the opportunity to present their case to the Steering Committee.
On the statements made by the Steering Committee, the Government wishes to clarify that support from the Trust Fund, with the repair and new construction of low-cost housing, has been proposed on several occasions without setting a definitive amount. In a letter to the Steering Committee in March 2020, the Government estimated that a total amount of 22 million US Dollars would be needed for repairs in Belvedere. With this letter, the Government also reconfirmed its support for a potential housing project and highlighted possible financial support for SMHDF as part of such a project.
At the request of the Government, a Rapid Housing Sector Assessment was conducted by the World Bank, and extensive technical assistance was offered to SMHDF over the last few years. A review of the financial situation of SMHDF showed the need for structural improvements with the financial management of the Foundation. The recommendations as outlined in the Assessment are intended as a framework for discussion with the Government about possible actions to improve the housing market in Sint Maarten.
The Steering Committee met several times to discuss a potential housing project based on the outcomes of the Rapid Housing Sector Assessment and the financial review of SMHDF. Initially, a decision on a housing project was not made, as it was not clear whether there would be sufficient funds remaining in the Trust Fund for such a project. In July 2021, on the initiative of the Government, the Steering Committee agreed to earmark 20 million US Dollars for a potential housing project and requested the World Bank and the NRPB to prepare a detailed proposal for final decision-making. In preparing this proposal, the World Bank and the NRPB have also been requested to consider the opportunities of blended financing to increase the available envelope. The Government intends to bring other financial parties to the table in the preparation of this project. In the coming months, consultations with stakeholders and possible project partners are scheduled to take place, including with SMHDF. Unfortunately, SMHDF made its statements publicly without having further dialogue with government on the earmarked funds.
In closing, this Government would like to emphatically state that our priority has always been to solve Sint Maarten’s dire lack of access to adequate housing, and we will continue to seek opportunities to remedy this during the current governing period. Is it relates to the announcement of SMHDF to increase the rent of their tenants, Government will also be seeking clarifications on the decision to enforce such.