Jansen-Webster: Permanent damage caused in VROMI over last four years

May 23, 2024  -The Daily Herald  -PHILIPSBURG–At a press conference on Tuesday acting Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI Veronica Jansen-Webster painted a grim picture of the situation encountered when the new government took office.

She said the conditions under which the ministry was managed over the last four years have left permanent damage in the organisation and on civil servants. According to Jansen-Webster, the ministry is completely without leadership. “We came into VROMI and immediately encountered a system that had been put in place to keep the actual departments out of the loop when it comes to receiving requests from the public,” she told reporters.

“The lack of a secretary general and multiple department heads, a virtually empty staff bureau with employee satisfaction being at an all-time low were also several obstacles pinpointed by VROMI Chief of Staff Raeyhon Peterson,” she said.

Outlining the lack of leadership, she said there is no secretary general, not even an acting secretary general; no controller and the acting controller sick and preparing to leave on vacation during budget period; no head of permits; no head of “domein beheer”; the VROMI policy head was just signed after quite some time; and the head of New Works is out on medical leave.

According to Jansen-Webster, the conditions under which the ministry was managed over the last four years have left permanent damage not only within the organisation, but also the civil servants. Many, she said, have quit and some are still on the verge of leaving, given the neglect for their well-being and concerns over the last couple of years.

She said also that no transition document had been received from VROMI at the start. It was only after a week in office that the former Cabinet of the VROMI minister delivered a transition document, making it clear from where the ministry’s operations were run.

She said too that deadlines for establishment of the 2025 budget for all ministries were not met by VROMI, neither for their draft requested budget nor for their multi-year budget.

Government submitted what she said had been “a padded budget 2024”, which now results in VROMI being asked to slash the 2024 budget by two million Netherlands Antillean guilders to make it “more realistic”.

“Large funding projects are in jeopardy, such as the wastewater connection project, for which, not surprisingly, there is no focal point in the ministry, no SG [secretary general – Ed.], no acting SG [and] communication with the ministry on project level has been delayed.”

Most concerning, she noted, is the housing project for which 20 million was ready to be signed off on. “This government was taking steps to mitigate this loss of funds by showing the World Bank our commitment to execute the project with some minor show of effort.”

There has to be a land swap in Hope Estate, the deed has to be passed and an agreement is necessary between government and the St. Maarten Housing Development Foundation (SMHDF); while a draft exists now, it has not been signed.

She said also that the World Bank is now of the opinion that there will not be sufficient time to finish the project before the end of the programme, which is December 2028, and indicated that a full assessment of the gravity of the situation is being done, “after which the public will be informed in detail as to where we really stand at the moment.”

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