VROMI State of Affairs – Minister Patrice Gumbs Provides Comprehensive Update

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PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Minister of VROMI and Deputy Prime Minister Patrice Gumbs issued a media statement on Tuesday, 25 June 2024, where he provided a comprehensive update on the state of affairs within the Ministry of VROMI and what his Cabinet has been and will continue to work on following his swearing in.

“The Ministry of VROMI has faced challenges for many years,” Gumbs stated. “There is systematic understaffing and many critical projects have not received the attention needed as a result, across almost every department. For me personally, coming from the Department of Foreign Relations, I’ve seen first hand how these challenges and their effect on project execution, impact the international reputation of our country, especially on cooperation with French Saint-Martin. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to rebuild trust not only abroad but also with the local population. It’s my intention, together with my Cabinet, to approach these issues with an ethical and integrity-driven approach.”

GEBE

The most critical issue facing the country right now is electricity production at NV GEBE. As it stands, the Prime Minister has explained to Parliament and the public the approach being taken by GEBE and the Government to solve the crisis. Gumbs said that his focus as Minister of VROMI is how the ministry itself plays a large role in how GEBE’s production capacity is impacted.

“What is most concerning to me is that I have been informed about possible email correspondence where NV GEBE has been asking for more dialogue with the Ministry of VROMI regarding big developments, but none granted,” Gumbs stated. “The existence of this correspondence will be verified and I will be assessing it and amending development policies and application forms in collaboration with my policy department.”

Legal Issues

Currently there are more than 20 court cases pending against the Ministry of VROMI. In the coming weeks, Minister Gumbs will be working to resolve what can be resolved in collaboration with the Ministry’s legal team. From an initial glance, several of these cases could have been avoided with just a simple response from the Ministry on a variety of matters. Gumbs said it is his intention to update the public as these items are resolved.

Housing Project

“During my time as Minister Plenipotentiary, I was fortunate enough to accompany the Prime Minister to Washington, D.C. for update meetings on the Trust Fund,” Gumbs said. “It would appear that, due to delayed communication and decision-making by the previous Minister, the much-talked about housing project will not be executed.”

Gumbs expressed his frustration with this reality, noting that it further outlines the need for competent capacity building across ministries, and stated that he was already in discussions with the Dutch Ministry of Interior Affairs to see what, if anything, could be salvaged of the approximate $20 million in funding.

Domain Affairs

Gumbs noted that, leading up to his swearing in, he received updates from his Cabinet that several long-lease renewal cases had been handled, leading to increased revenue for the country. Most notable is the resolution to the Maho long-lease case.

“Working with our larger long-lease land holders to bring their canon payments up to date has been something my Chief of Staff Raeyhon Peterson has championed since he was a member of Parliament and since he was Acting Head of Domain Affairs,” Minister Gumbs said. “This allows the Government to earn more revenue with fair and equitable long-lease fees and we will continue these negotiations on a case-by-case basis.”

Permits

Several of the court cases currently facing the Ministry of VROMI relate to building permits that were allegedly issued in an incorrect manner. The Minister shared that he has received an update from his Chief of Staff Raeyhon Peterson on two permits issued by the previous administration that are cause for concern, as well as permits that have been denied or gone unanswered with no appropriate reasoning given. Minister Gumbs explained that more information will be shared in the coming days regarding this matter.

Infrastructure: Road Works

In the coming weeks, VROMI will be launching its road resurfacing program. With this program, VROMI aims to repair vital roadways. Past administrations tended to focus more on the number of roads resurfaced, over the quality of the surfacing done. , As a result, many of our roads lack proper drainage, and this is key for road longevity. The lack of proper drainage leads to roads having a very short lifespan after resurfacing, which in turn means more money wasted. Therefore, after careful consultation with the Department of Infrastructure and the company executing the works, it was decided to focus on main roads, most of which already have the necessary drainage.

Drainage:

Sint Maarten’s infrastructure has always lagged behind population growth, and one area where this is evident is drainage. Many of the roads that have poor surfaces can be attributed to a lack of drainage, and thus, water tends to settle on the road, leading to premature destruction.

The Department of Infrastructure will be looking to correct these matters in certain areas, but problems must involve creative and innovative solutions.

VROM:

The policy side of the Ministry has long been neglected. The lack of policies and legal frameworks, leaves, gray, much of the Ministry’s work, and while this is necessary in some regard, it in turn gives far too much power to the individual Minister to decide on matters. My administration will support the creation of these policies, especially those that relate to environmental issues and sustainability of our country. I plan to use my experience in Foreign Affairs to support the initiatives of the policy department to align with the UN’s sustainable development goals, ushering in a new way in which this country handles public domain, urban planning, and along with Ministry TEATT, its position on renewable energy.

Overall Engagement:

In 2023, the Government undertook an Employee Satisfaction Survey; the results of which indicated that the employees of VROMI are the least engaged. They are the least satisfied across the board with a score of 4.7/10, far below the overall average of 5.8/10. The Ministry has the largest number of vacancies and is also negatively impacted by a high perception of politicization and victimization, neither of which I have time or energy for; there is a substantial amount of work that has to be done. I plan to implement initiatives that empower the civil servants, strengthen the relationship between civil service and ministry and increase overall capacity in the Ministry. I want the civil servants to know that their advice and contribution is valued regardless of their political or personal orientations.