Minister Smith Responds to MP Brison on Monuments
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Minister Smith Responds to MP Brison on Monuments

Minister Wycliffe Smith Minister Wycliffe Smith

SINT MAARTEN (POND ISLAND) - Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, the Honourable Wycliffe Smith, responded to questions posed by Member of Parliament Rolando Brison in a letter dated July 3, 2019 concerning the activities of the Monument Council and the repairs of monuments in Philipsburg.

The responses were provided to the MP based on an email he sent to the Minister, though the official communication from the House of Parliament is still pending. Minister Smith explained the delay in his response as being due to his travel overseas during that time.

Brison requested information concerning the installation of the Monument Council, the removal of approved prospective members, the status of repairs to monuments in Philipsburg and an update on requests made by monument owners. Minister Smith gave detailed responses to MP Brison for each question posed.

The following is the series of questions from MP Brison and the responses as given by Minister Smith.

  1. Can the Minister please explain why he would allow such a major delay to occur, and not respect the wishes of parliament who approved these members to be installed?

Ans: Upon taking office as Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, I queried the possible conflict of interest should my son, Donovan Smith, be appointed to the Monument Council during my tenure. I was advised that as his nomination was made prior to my appointment, there was no conflict of interest. After the members of the Monument Council were approved by Parliament, the draft National Decree, as per the required procedures of the Landsbesluit Inrichting en Werkwijze Monumentenraad, was submitted to the Governor for signing. As Minister, I was then advised that it might not be ethical to have a family member as a member of the Council, even if I were not the sitting Minister at the time of selection. To be transparent in all matters, I immediately took the decision to remove my son from the list of Council members.

Consequently, the removal of the candidate left the Council with an even number of members. To maintain the odd number of candidates for the appointment to the Monument Council meant that we also had to temporarily remove another candidate to maintain the integrity of the odd number. I was then presented with two options. (1) Drop the sixth candidate that was approved by Parliament and re-submit the draft National Decree with five names in order to be able to comply with the uneven number mentioned in the Landsbesluit, or (2) submit one additional name to Parliament for approval. As Minister, in order to expedite the process, I chose option 1 and so, five names were included in the draft Landsbesluit and submitted to the Governor for signing. The draft National Decree was signed on February 8, 2019. On February 20, 2019, I met with the members of the newly established Monument Council to briefly discuss their appointment by law and their associated duties. Therefore, MP Brison, by recognizing a possible delay, I took the decision to have the Monument Council installed with a lower, yet legal number of members. I believe the Members of Parliament would agree that this decision to expedite their installation with transparency and integrity, while within the confines of the law was to the better interest of Country Sint Maarten.

  1. Does the Minister understand the implications of his lack of urgency having affected the ability of many monuments in St. Maarten to undergo urgent repairs and preparation for the hurricane season?

Ans: For the record, the installation of the Monument Council has always had the attention of the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, both in this administration as well as that of my predecessor. The care, restoration, repair, maintenance, and refurbishing of monuments will always be a significant concern to me and to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sport. What you seem to perceive as a ‘lack of urgency’ is the bureaucratic process involved in repairing monuments, particularly after a major disaster. As Minister, I have made it my duty to expedite these processes where possible and to advance the work of restoring our monuments.

The Ministry has been trying to explore possible solutions with funding agencies in order to alleviate the suffering of monument owners, some of whom are retired, senior citizens. The Ministry has also lobbied with the Netherlands in order to secure funds to assist with repairs of the hurricane-damaged monuments. The Ministry of Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschappen (OCW) in the Netherlands, has approved seven hundred and fifty thousand euros. However, these funds require that the Government of Sint Maarten establish an entity that will be responsible for managing the fund. Regrettably, the funds allotted by OCW for Sint Maarten are not a grant but a revolving loan. The Ministry requested the Minister of OCW to examine the possibility of making a part of the allocated funds a grant in order to particularly accommodate our senior citizens who own and reside in a designated monument and who would not be able to afford a loan.

To secure the allocated funds, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sport is currently in the process of establishing a Monument Fund. This, however, is a lengthy process, which has led to the delay in being able to accept the funds.

Please note that in order to be fully equipped and prepared to take care of our tangible heritage, a minimum of three organizations needs be established. (1) a Monument Council, (2) a Monument Fund, and (3) a Monument Care Entity.

It is clear that the current budget of the Ministry is insufficient and would have to be increased to be able to put in place the three aforementioned legal entities that would have the capacity skill set, the expertise, and the funds to manage our Monuments, which are part of the tangible Cultural Heritage of St. Maarten. Please note that currently, only the Monument Council is operational. The setting up of the Monument Fund is in progress. And the Monument Care Entity is in the preparatory stage. Once these organizations are in place, they would provide for maximum monument management, maintenance, preservation, and restoration.

  1. Does the Monument Council have the correct number of members on board, and sufficient expertise?

Ans: The Monument Council can have a maximum of nine members if budget permits. Currently, the Council consists of five members. An additional two members will be finalised shortly, pending their confirmation, to bring the total to seven Monument Council members. As mentioned under question 1, the process to install all candidates was interrupted as one candidate, having received approval from Parliament, was asked to withdraw from the Monument Council.

The advice, proposing the two additional candidates, has been written and sent from the Department of Culture to be finalized. It is noted that some of the members who are currently on the Council were also part of the previous Council and as such have the experience and expertise available to execute their tasks. However, if the Minister or the Monument Council feels that further assistance or expertise is needed, experts in the field of construction, architecture, conservation, history, or archaeology may be hired to give advice and/or to review as has been done previously. The Ministry may also request advice and information from the Division of Inspection of the Ministry of ECYS and from the Ministry of VROMI as it relates to inspection and building safety.

  1. How many “urgent” requests versus how many “regular” requests for advice were sent to the Monument Council?

Ans: To date, the Monument Council has officially received a total of five requests. Please note that no distinction is made between urgent and regular requests. Given the post-Irma situation, all requests are considered important.

  1. Is the Minister allowing sufficient time for the Monument Council to conduct their proper due diligence in advising on reconstruction efforts of Monuments?

Ans: According to article 6 of the Landsbesluit Inrichting en Werkwijze Monumentenraad, the law requires the Monument Council to advise the Minister on a Monument permit request. The law stipulates that the Monument Council has thirty (30) days to respond to the Minister, to either request more information or to advise on whether the permit should be approved or denied (Article 5 & 6 Landsbesluit Inrichting en Werkwijze Monumentenraad). Yes, based on the Law the Minister is giving the Monument Council enough time to conduct their proper due diligence in advising on the reconstruction efforts of monuments.

  1. Can the Minister request an update from the Monument Council to be shared with parliament on their current workload and backlog, and their plan for addressing these?

Ans: To answer your question, MP Brison, yes, the Minister can make such requests of the Council. As an update for the Members of Parliament, since taking up their mandate, the Council has been busy facilitating pre-Hurricane Irma requests and taking stock of the monuments post-Irma. The Council reported that there was significant damage done to homes, many of them being primary residences located in the Philipsburg area. As part of their year plan, the Monument Council decided to give special attention to this segment of the monuments. A press release was issued asking persons to contact the Council, and a radio interview was conducted. Similar initiatives are being planned. To date, the Council has rendered their advice on five renovation requests and submitted recommendations to the Minister on three subjects. These were the need for access to legal and architectural expertise, the establishment of a funding mechanism, i.e. the Monument Fund, and the need for the nomination of a national archaeologist.

  1. Does the Monument Council have any sort of budget for assisting monuments?

Ans: The function of the Monument Council is to act as advisory body to the Minister and as such, the Council does not have a budget to assist with monuments. As you know, in the 2019 Budget an amount of Naf. 45,000 has been allocated for the Monument Council. This amount is designated to compensate the members of the Council for their attendance at meetings and for any specialized expertise that they may need in order to be able to advise the Minister.

To reiterate, the Monument Council is not the responsible body for providing financial assistance to repair, restore, or conserve monuments. This would be the task of the Monument Fund. As you know, in the Budget of 2019, only Naf. 76,000 ($ 42,222) has been allocated to the Monument Fund. This amount, however, is designated to cover the cost of creating and establishing the Fund, and to cover the initial operational costs. As has been mentioned before, the Ministry is currently busy with the establishment of the Monument Fund. Once the Monument Fund is operational, this entity then may request funds from various funding agencies i.e. local, regional, and international, including Government (Ministry ECYS) for grants or loans related to repairs, restoration, preservation, or the maintenance of monuments.

  1. How many requests and from which monument holders did the Council receive requests for funding assistance?

Ans: The Monument Council received five requests for assistance, of which three requested funding. Financial assistance was requested by the monument owners of: L.B. Scott Road 105, Front Street 113, and the Passangrahan Hotel. The other two requests were received from the Vineyard, and the Vlaun Family (The White House).

  1. Did the Minister request from the trust fund any funding for the Monument Council, if yes how much, if not why not?

Ans: During the Government’s initial talks with the World Bank, I was informed that the repairs to monuments were not their priority. However, quite recently, I learned that the Steering Committee is actually willing to entertain a proposal for the repairs and restoration of several monuments in Philipsburg. After learning of this possibility, I requested the Department of Culture and the Monument Council to write a proposal which I intend to submit to the Steering Committee via the Council of Ministers. This proposal would outline the various monuments in Philipsburg and would stress the urgency of them being restored to avoid further deterioration of our tangible heritage in Philipsburg. Even though the Steering Committee may consider funding the repairs and restoration of monuments in Philipsburg, funds will still be needed to restore our monuments outside the Philipsburg area.

     9a.  The cistern before Walter Plantz square.

Ans: This cistern is a partial residue of the original monument. The entire land lot was designated as a monument. However, Hurricane Irma destroyed the former building of which the cistern was a part. The owner contacted the Department of Culture and made verbal inquiries on whether the cistern could be demolished. The lot is private property, and it is unclear what the owner’s intentions are. As with all monuments, the Ministry’s goal is to support and facilitate all preservation efforts. The owner would have to provide a more comprehensive elucidation concerning his vision for the monument. The demolition of the cistern needs careful consideration, as it is a prominent part of what is left of the designated monument in the wake of the destruction of Hurricane Irma. The Department is awaiting a formal request from the monument owner.

9b. The property Watkins House Front Street #113.

Ans: Immediately after the hurricane in 2017, the owner of this property petitioned Government for financial assistance to repair their monument.

Conditions after Hurricane Irma were chaotic and misinformation circulated within the community, as well as expectations surrounding the World Bank and its assistance. Monuments homeowners perceived that they too would be recipients of funding. However, as time progressed, it became clear that funding designated for home repairs excluded monument homeowners.

Two years after hurricane Irma, this remains the case. Due to the complexity of monument restoration, the roof-rebuilding programme established immediately after hurricane Irma left monument homeowners and wooden structures out of consideration for this assistance. At this stage, the Watkins house request for financial aid was unable to be processed for the reasons stated below.

  1. The Ministry had no means then or now to offer financial aid to monument homeowners.
  2. The Monument Council’s role is advisory and not a funding agent.
  3. The government-established roof rebuilding excluded wooden structures and monuments.

The request for a permit to rebuild/repair is now being processed by the newly installed Monument Council. The owner can expect a response in the near future.

9c. Front Street property “The Old House” Meetbrief 363-1997.

Ans: The property owner of Meetbrief 363-1997 requested a demolition permit for the monument. According to our laws, the proposed demolition of a monument must be reviewed thoroughly to ensure that, indeed, there is no possibility to save the monument from demolition. The owner met with the previous Minister and was advised to have a professional historic architecture expert inspect the building and give an advice as to whether the building can be restored. The Council received an advice from Dr Jay Haviser, archaeologist regarding this property. The Department of Culture has learned that the historic architecture expert based in Curacao inspected the building but has not been privy to the results of the findings in his report. As the owner paid to have the expert evaluate the building, the Department of Culture could not demand a copy of the results. The Department of Culture requested an update on the results of the conservationist’s findings, but to date these have not been obtained from the owner. In a recent meeting with the Monument Council, it was established that the Council will contract an independent conservationist to evaluate the building and to advise the Council accordingly. On July 31, 2019, the Department of Culture, the Monument Council and I met with the owners of meetbrief 363-1997 Front Street 59 (The Wathey House). Clarifications regarding the permit request were provided which will expedite the handling of the request. Noteworthy is the fact that the permit would not entail demolition.

  1. What is the status of the Monument Passangrahan? Why is the property being split up?

Ans: The owner of Passangrahan has requested financial assistance to help with the rebuilding of the hotel. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, the Ministry does not have the budget for repairs and restoration of monuments. As only the front part (the entrance) of the Passangrahan is considered as a monument, it is advisable that the monument part be separated from the remainder of the property. In the past, when the Island Government designated properties as monuments, the entire property was considered a monument even though perhaps just a section of the property contained the monument. This is the case with the Passangrahan property. Splitting the property so that the monument part is separate from the rest of the building would make it easier to negotiate the restoration and funding of the monument section.

In consultation with the department of VROMI, it was also determined that the property is being charged lower tariff in regard to land tax while a majority of the property is being used commercially as a hotel. It was decided that in issuing two separate meetbriefs, the owners could now pay the proper rate for the tariff attached to the section used as a hotel and a reduced rate for the section on which the monument sits. This change allows government to properly collect tax at its full potential.

The Ministry is only responsible to safeguard and support the restoration and rebuilding the monument section of the Passangrahan, not the new addition to the property that falls outside of the purview of the Monument Council. The owner of the monument has requested funding to assist with repairs and with the rebuilding of the monument section. However, as mentioned before, pending the creation of the Monument Fund to assist with funding repairs and restoration of monuments, there is currently no funding in place to restore, rebuild, or renovate monuments on Sint Maarten.

  1. Can the Minister share with us why these properties have not been repaired as yet?

Ans: Prior to hurricane Irma, the Ministry had neither the finances nor the infrastructure in place to deal with safeguarding protecting, managing, restoring, and maintaining our tangible cultural heritage. The storm exposed our inability to deal with our monuments properly. However, the disaster offered us the opportunity to really see what infrastructure needs to be in place. It was determined that three entities are established in order to adequately and comprehensively take care of our tangible cultural heritage. The three entities, as mentioned before, are: (1) the Monument Council, (2) the Monument Fund, and (3) the Monument Care Entity.

Unfortunately, at present, only the Monument Council is in place. Had all the structures been established before disaster struck, the recovery and restoration process would have certainly been expedited. Having access to funds, the necessary expertise, and manpower would have facilitated the repairs.

It should also be made very clear that the role of Government is to assist the owners with restoration efforts as outlined by the Monument Regulation. The assistance, however, is supremely dependent on budget allocation. Unfortunately, the budget allocated for repairs, maintenance, and preservation of monuments is non-existent. For this reason, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport anticipates an increase in the 2020 budget to accommodate these needs.

  1. What communication has he had with these property owners?

Ans: I take it that you are asking about the communication that the Minister has had with the property owners. I have met with several of the monument owners to get a first-hand account of the challenges that they are facing with regard to the rebuilding and recuperation process.

  1. What policies are in place?

Ans: The Ministry of ECYS and the Monument Council are guided directly by the following ordinances and decrees:

  1. Landsverordening houdende nieuwe regels met betrekking tot de grondslagen voor het behoud van monumenten
  2. Landsbesluit, houdende algemene maatregelen, ter uitvoering van de Monumentenlandsverordening
  3. Landbesluit inrichting en werkwijze Monumentenraad
  4. Landsverordening houdende nieuwe regels met betrekking tot de grondslagen voor het behoud van monumenten

There are currently no other policies in place.

  1. Can we get a complete list of monuments, divided by districts?

Ans: Attached, please find a complete listing of the monuments, divided by districts.

  1. Why has the Monument Council not replied to owners of the properties of Front Street #113 as well as Property Meetbrief 363-1997 in regard to their urgent requests to begin repairs to the property?

Ans:

    1. A response was drafted to the owners of Front Street #113, but in the immediate period post-hurricane Irma, this response failed to reach the monument owner. Since the tenure of the previous Monument Council expired in May 2017 the monument owner met directly with the previous Minister of Education and was advised to have a professional historic architecture expert inspect the building in order to give an advice as to whether the building can be restored. Since the establishment of the new Monument Council in February, 2019 the Council has now taken up this request, and a response is in process.      
    2. The owner of Meetbrief 363-1997, Front Street #59 had requested a demolition permit for the monument. For further explanation concerning this request, you are referred to the answer given to question 9c.
  1. What is the plan to ensure that the properties will be restored?

Ans:

  1. The Monument Council is ensuring that all requests for monument permits are handled expeditiously.
  2. Finalize the establishment of the Monument Fund so that the 750,000 euros that were made available through the Ministry of OCW for monument repairs can be used to restore some of the monuments on St. Maarten. The proposal on the table is that the SOAB would establish the Fund post-haste and that this newly created Fund will be charged with managing the funds.
  • The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sport will prepare an inventory of the monuments in the Philipsburg area and submit it to the Steering Committee for funding, through the Council of Ministers as soon as possible. The inventory will refer to the listing of monuments that were included in the report that was written by Nanette de Jong of the Cultural Heritage Agency in the Netherlands and submitted to the Department of Culture in April 2018.
  1. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth, and Sport will also make an inventory of all the monuments outside the Philipsburg area.
  2. Once the Monument Council has processed all of the requests that they have received for monument permits, the Council will systematically review all the other monuments and offer their unsolicited advice as to the status and the future of the monuments.
  1. Is the Ministry targeting local families and making it hard for them to rebuild, while foreign entities are being allowed to fast track their way to rebuilding efforts in St. Maarten?

Ans: The Ministry is in no way targeting any segment of this society, local families nor, as you say, ‘foreign entities.’ The Ministry is working with equal fervour and commitment to support all organizations who are committed to the rebuilding and preserving of Sint Maarten’s tangible heritage.

A copy of Minister Smith's reply to MP Brison was provided to the House of Parliament for the benefit of all its members.

 

MONUMENTS OF SINT MAARTEN

 

Designated Monuments from 2005

Nr

Monument Name

Designated

Year

B-004

Fort Amsterdam (Little Bay Peninsula)

2005

B-016

Union Farm Estate (Dutch Quarter)

2005

B-001

Vineyard Estate (East Philipsburg)

2005

P-060

Methodist Church (Frontstreet #90)

2005

P-061

Methodist Manse (In Methodist Church yard)

2005

P-062

Brick Building (in Methodist Church yard)

2005

P-045

Guavaberry Emporium (Frontstreet #8)

2005

P-047

Pasanggrahan Royal Guest House (Frontstreet)

2005

Designated Monuments from 2008

Nr

Monument Name

Designated

Year

P-058

Courthouse (Frontstreet)

2008

B-009

Emilio Wilson Estate

2008

B-021

Verkavelingen Zoutpannen Great Salt Pond en dijk (north/east Great Salt Pond)

2008

B-020

Zoutfabriek Foga (Arch Road)

2008

B-015

Madam Estate (A.T. Illidge Road)

2008

B-010

Mary’s Fancy Plantation (L.B. Scott Road)

2008

B-019

Belvedere Plantation (Oysterpond Road)

2008

B-018

Bishop Hill Plantation (Bishop Hill Road)

2008

B-007

Dutch Reformed Cemetary Cul-de Sac

2008

B-008

L.B. Scot Road 105

2008

P-048

St. Joseph Convent (Frontstreet 26)

2008

P-068

Frontstreet 113

2008

P-073

Frontstreet 134

2008

P-074

The White House (Frontstreet 144)

2008

P-006

Backstreet 28

2008

P-017

Dollison Family House (Backstreet 88)

2008

P-018

Backstreet 93

2008

P-032

Backstreet 152

2008

P-033

Backstreet 153

2008

P-171

Backstreet 171

2008

Designated Monuments from 2009

Nr

Monument Name

Designated

Year

 

 

 

 

B-005

Fort Willem (Fort Hill)

2009

B-002

St. Peters Battery (J. Yrausquin Blvd)

2009

B-012

Ebenezer Plantation (S. Hazel/R. Mayan Roads, St. Peters

2009

B-017

Bethlehem Plantation (Dutch Quarter-French Quarter)

2009

P-052

Rink House (Frontstreet #37)

2009

P-054

Roman Catholic Church (Frontstreet #51)

2009

P-056

Frontstreet #56

2009

P-057

Frontstreet #57

2009

P-059

Frontstreet #59

2009

P-063

L’Escargot (Frontstreet #96)

2009

P-065

Oranje School (Fronstreet #100)

2009

P-080

De Weever House (Frontstreet #171)

2009

P-013

Backstreet #44

2009

P-092

Sweet   Repose/ Sr Borgia School (Cannegieterstreet)

2009

P-050

St. Joseph School (Frontstreet #28)

2009

P-093

Hendriksteeg #4

2009

P-094

Zoutpakhuis (Hendriksteeg #6)

2009

P-099

Van Putten House (Smidsteeg #3)

2009

S------

Simpson Bay Road #11

2009

S-011

Simpson Bay Road #44

2009

S-009

Simpson Bay Government Cistern (Simpson Bay Road)

2009

S-013

Simpson Bay Old Bridge ( Behind Atrium)

2009

S-005

St. Petrus Gonzales Chapel (Simpson Bay Road #28)

2009

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