By Suzanne Koelega
ROTTERDAM–Is Unleashed Potential Group (UPG) a victim of local forces that are not keen on including a group of young professionals from St. Maarten living in the Netherlands with a fierce desire to assist their island, or is it that St. Maarten is not yet ready to embrace an innovative concept? Maybe it’s both.
UPG set two major goals that sounded simple: delivering knowledge and quality improvement by helping to build the local socio-economic system, and learning by doing, taking the island’s issues and helping to solve them, while gaining experience for the young professionals in the process. How? By analysing issues, developing ideas, action plans and project plans, and helping to execute these plans, coached by senior expertise.
After developing several initial project proposals, including a plan of approach for the highly problematic St. Maarten solid-waste dump, the UPG team took it upon themselves to draft the Integral Development Plan St. Maarten. Completed mid-August 2017, the plan was offered to then-Prime Minister William Marlin and Finance Minister at the time Richard Gibson. Then came Hurricane Irma and everything changed.
UPG Recovery Plan
Team UPG decided to update and adjust the Integral Development Plan to incorporate the damage inflicted by the hurricane and the actions needed to rebuild St. Maarten. The plan was renamed the Recovery and Regeneration Plan and called “Operation Pelican.” The idea was that this plan could be used as a basis to help rebuild the island, with the input and love of St. Maarteners in the Netherlands.
The adapted plan and some meetings: that is as far as UPG got. There has been radio silence on the part of the St. Maarten government for months now.
UPG is not in it for the money; it just wants to help in St. Maarten’s recovery, the organisation continuously told the stakeholders in St. Maarten. “Profit is not our model. We are in it for the love of our island where we grew up and where our family lives,” said Brooks, who, like Nicodem, still has a hard time accepting how “disrespectfully” the St. Maarteners of the UPG team are treated by the St. Maarten government, the politicians.
For starters, the then-William Marlin cabinet never responded to the UPG Integral Development Plan or to the Recovery and Regeneration Plan. The Marlin government fell after the hurricane and “informateur” Franklin Meyers proved to be a lot more receptive.
“He was immediately enthusiastic and charmed by the idea to involve young professional St. Maarteners in the reconstruction process,” said Nicodem. “It did create a lot of energy.”
Meyers pulled himself from the screening process, but UPG asked him to put in a good word with the interim cabinet of Leona Romeo-Marlin, and all the candidate ministers forwarded their input which was included in the process. The UPG document was provided to the candidate interim cabinet and the group prepared for the visit of new Prime Minister Romeo-Marlin to the Netherlands late January this year.
However, a formal decision of the Council of Ministers on the recovery plan and the involvement of UPG was still needed. UPG was invited to attend a meeting of the Council of Ministers, right after the presentation by representatives of the World Bank. The lone UPG representative stood no chance.
“It was a done deal,” said Nicodem.
A meeting with Romeo-Marlin and Finance Minister Mike Ferrier in The Hague did not yield positive results either, besides a “thank you” to the St. Maarten members of UPG. UPG sent a letter “on behalf of the St. Maarteners” to the government that same month, pleading for decisive action in the interest of the people.
“Up to this day we have not received any response, despite the promises made. After the hurricane, we didn’t pack containers with relief goods. Instead, we decided to assist the government with the reconstruction process,” said Nicodem.
After the February elections, UPG approached the St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) as the new potential coalition partner. UPG gave input on the “informateur” process – of course, again free of charge.
“We advised on how to create a coalition that would last the full four years,” said Brooks. Two meetings in person of the UPG team with SMCP leader Wycliffe Smith in The Hague during the Inter-Parliamentary Consultation for the Kingdom IPKO, which appeared positive, were the last contact with the new government.
The events have left a bitter taste in the mouths of the entire UPG team, but especially Nicodem, a retired seasoned project manager of a renowned accounting and consultancy firm who dedicated full-time effort to the UPG cause, on a completely voluntary basis.
“I do feel very bad for the rest of the team, where the focus is on, because the St. Maarten government puts down its own people and that is a very bad thing. This is the umpteenth initiative of St. Maarten’s own people that gets thwarted – people with brains and with commitment, people that you as a government implore to come back after studying,” said Nicodem.
Brooks, who recently completed his Master’s degree in Financial Law at Leiden University, has a theory as to why St. Maarten does not embrace UPG’s innovative ideas: “When people don’t understand something, they tend to toss it aside as nonsensical. Instead of opening up themselves to something new, they stick their head in the sand and push it away.”
Nicodem referred to the attitude of government as “bouncing onto a rubber wall.” “In my professional life, I am used to handling difficult projects. The reconstruction programme is a large, but relatively simple project. You can move mountains at a high pace with the right people and structure in place,” he said.
Brooks: “Our strength is that we work outside the realms of government. No bureaucracy. We are a small team and we communicate fast.”
Nicodem: “It doesn’t matter to us who gets the credit for doing the work, as long as it happens and St. Maarten gets back on the map.”
The UPG team knew beforehand that it would not be a smooth ride, said Nicodem. “We were determined to make a difference. We worked hard as a team. We remained behind the scenes and we placed everything on the government’s table, free of charge. The government did nothing with our work. It was simply ignored, which is a slap in the face of the young St. Maarteners who have been working tirelessly to help their island.”
To kill any excuses to avoid the UPG because it is headed by a “white, mister-know-it-all Dutchman,” as he put it, Nicodem decided to relinquish his position as chairman, to get out of the organisation and let it be run by only St. Maarteners, although two St. Maarteners have been on the UPG board since day one. Brooks has been the new UPG chairman since August 1.
“We will not change who we are, but with the new set-up, we are confident that we, as born St. Maarteners, will be able to better interact with government. Our goal is to still deal with the issues that keep St. Maarteners from returning home after their studies. We will remain involved in the reconstruction because we want to contribute. It won’t be easy, but we are determined and we are here to help rebuild our island,” said Brooks.
Mr. Carlvin A. Brooks will step into the position of Chairman of the Board of the Unleased Potential Group Foundation (UPG) and will replace founder and initiator Raimond Nicodem, who started and built UPG the last 2,5 years. The reason for the change is the numerous appeals that our foundation has made to the Government of Sint Maarten in order to help boost the social-economic climate of the island and to create a bridge to train and motivate educated Sint Maarteners to return to Sint Maarten. To date, despite the enormous efforts that our group has made, the analyses and concrete plans to get the island back on its feet since (and before) hurricane Irma, talks with and offers made to the Government of Sint Maarten, no decision has been taken by the Government to make use of our own young professionals.
UPG Foundation was started by young professional Sint Maarteners for Sint Maarten; grouping together, to work as a team. To learn by doing. To gain experience and give back to the island where we come from. With the ultimate goal to boost the economy and social welfare and attract young Sint Maarteners back to our island. This reverse migration issue (also called brain drain) is a serious worry for the continuity of the island’s future. Guided and coached by senior professional experience and knowledge, our group has worked tirelessly to help our island.
Applauded by the Governments but it never came to the point of filling the desires of the island’s recovery projects, project management, and planning. Back in February of this year, our group built an entire project management structure and designed how it should be staffed. It was ready to go. It was built to manage the recovery projects. Also, this initiative bounced by the Government.
The group has analyzed that the island is not able to absorb the strategic vision and related actions, which are desperately needed, but not well understood.
Near future developments of the group
As of yesterday, we transferred our statement “who can better help Sint Maarten than a Sint Maartener” effectively to the entire organization of the UPG Foundation. This has been the goal and purpose from day one, but it will be put in effect earlier to overcome eventual barriers. The Board and the team of the UPG Foundation will be manned by Sint Maarteners. With this and some initiatives going forward, the team will be synchronizing their efforts to a more appropriate level for the island. The group has the hope that Sint Maarten is ready to understand and use us as a resource. Which will quantum leap the development of the island. Clearly, the goals of UPG will not be changed, only the type of effort and the structure will be amended.
Raimond Nicodem: “It is with sincere regrets to have to take this decision. Despite the many occasions of discussing the full benefits of the UPG team and its genuine potential. It has been almost a full-time job. Talks and meetings with the interim Government, the current Government, the Governor, and many more over the last 1,5 years, unfortunately, Sint Maarten does not seem to be accepting the seriousness of our intentions and has difficulties to absorb the level of our ability and power. The island has been, and still is many ways, in a deplorable state, which we had hoped to deliver a maybe atypical, but nevertheless integer and serious help to the Government under the Governments supervision. The new Board will hopefully succeed in balancing this out and be able to reach the noble goals we have started out with. ”.
Carlvin Brooks: “On behalf of everyone in UPG and on behalf of the people who we have given hope to from Sint Maarten, we thank Raimond for the time and investment as Chairman of UPG. His efforts will not be in vain and we look forward to continuing our work together within the new structure. This is an exciting time that we as UPG are entering into. It is a compliment to us that we have made it this far and also that we have been trusted to continue this vision.
It will give us all the chance to take a more dominant role in UPG and push us to do new things to accomplish the vision that UPG has for Sint Maarten. We need each other and all the ideas we can think of to be a success! It will also be a time of uncertainty because now we have to make UPG work or it will not be successful. But then again the uncertainty has always been there. Raimond helped with guiding us through the uncertainty. But it has always been and will always be our job to find our own way through this uncertainty. The good thing is that we are more than capable of doing it. We also have each other for support.
Thank you Raimond”.
Since Irma devasted the island of Sint Maarten back in September of last year, we have been keeping timers running on the main page of our UPG website.
These timers are certainly not there for mere fun; they represent the time it takes, in a critical situation, to make the necessary steps to get the basics right, which aid in adequately rebuilding Sint Maarten.
Most of the timers adding days, minutes and seconds as we speak. Predominantly, they depict wasted time.
Only one timer counts down, which are the days, minutes and seconds left before hurricane season 2018 starts. The last timer stresses the urgency to take action. Taking action would cause the other timers stop. Unfortunately, these timers did not stop and are still counting.
The only counter which has now stopped is the one which displays the time remaining before hurricane season 2018 starts; time has officially run out, as of today.
Let us, together, stop the other timers from counting. Let us stop wasting valuable time!
In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the devastation to the island of Sint Maarten and the necessary rebuild and recovery activities to be undertaken, this situation got highly complicated by undesired political tensions between the Sint Maarten and Dutch Government. In this light, scenarios need to be analyzed for risks and impacts in order to make conscious decisions and measures.
In the next few days, UPG will further elaborate on the different options Sint Maarten has, along with the pro’s and con’s which go along with each of them.
A further explanation and elaboration of the Statute of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, by the UPG FOundation based on the opinion article in the Trouw newspaper of October 19th, 2017 (Mr. Dr. Flora Goudappel, Associate Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, International and European law)
To conclude the first phase of the preliminary analysis
It is very unlikely the countries within the Kingdom, being Aruba, Curaçao, The Netherlands, and Sint Maarten come to a mutual agreement to change the Statute of the Kingdom of The Netherlands so that e.g. Sint Maarten becomes timely a fully independent country
Statute for the Kingdom of the Netherlands – Valid from 10-10-2010 to present
The Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten provide each other help and assistance
- Each country carries out the achievement of fundamental human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and the soundness of government;
- The safeguarding of these rights, freedoms, legal certainty and soundness of government is a matter for the Kingdom
- Where a body in Aruba, Curaçao or Sint Maarten does not provide or does not provide sufficiently for the purposes of the Statute, an international arrangement, a governmental act or a general measure of government, may, with reference to the grounds of law and the reasons on which he maintains that a general measure of government governs the way in which it is provided;
- For the Netherlands, this article provides for the constitution as necessary