Finance Minister Ardwell Irion.
PHILIPSBURG–“Unfortunate,” was the word used by Finance Minister Ardwell Irion to describe the financial crisis situation at ENNIA, stressing that government is responsible and “has to take care of the people.”
The minister said on Wednesday that government is engaged in discussions to come up with a solution to the problems at the pension insurer as requested by the Netherlands and indicated that talks are progressing well.
The Netherlands had asked both Curaçao and St. Maarten to come up with a solution for the problems being faced by ENNIA. Dutch State Secretary for Kingdom Relations and Digitization Alexandra van Huffelen said last week that the intention is to achieve long-term refinancing of the liquidity loans, tailored to the countries’ financial capacity.
“In regard to the ENNIA situation, it is unfortunate and there are about 3,000 persons that potentially can be affected. Potentially could be affected, I want to be very clear on that, on St. Maarten. So, we represent about between 10% and 15% and that risk starts potentially in 2025,” Irion said when asked about the matter during the live Council of Ministers’ press briefing on Wednesday.
“So, it’s not a risk of tomorrow. That risk potentially starts in 2025. So, the request of the State Secretary of the Netherlands [Alexandra van Huffelen] is that we start to look for a solution in case of having to now go and get extra funds from them and so forth. I had a meeting… [Tuesday] with the Minister of Finance of Curaçao and his staff and so we are discussing, because we do share the Central Bank. We also have been in discussions with the Central Bank also as a responsible stakeholder and we have until June 30, to come up with this solution,” Irion indicated.
Van Huffelen had said last week that “it is important for the budget risks to be clear and for measures to be taken to manage those risks. If a solution is found for this problem, we can arrive at an appropriate refinancing.” It is understood that a capital contribution of between 600 million and 700 million Netherlands Antillean guilders is needed by the end of 2023 to prevent policyholders from having their pensions cut. This money should come from the governments, pending the outcome of the liability case against ENNIA’s owner Hushang Ansary and return of withdrawn funds.
Irion said the talks on a solution are going well. “I think we are progressing pretty well. We are working multiple trajectories at the same time – we are dealing with the loans itself, the refinancing and now also have to deal with our position with the stakeholders of ENNIA, which is again, 10-15% which represents between Naf.100 and 150 million.”
Asked whether he thinks that taxpayers’ monies should be used to save ENNIA, the minister said taxpayers’ funds are used for everything that government does. “I wouldn’t say its taxpayers’ money saving ENNIA. ENNIA itself is going through a process so the Central Bank and the governments of Curaçao and St. Maarten we are in the process of trying to get the funds back – it’s not saving ENNIA. The court cases with [former Chairman of ENNIA Caribe Holding NV Hushang] Ansari, the sale of Mullet Bay, the whole process, all of that is trying to get the assets that are due to these pensioners. So, between the three entities, we are in the process of trying to take claim on the assets that belong to ENNIA. In the meantime, we do have these individuals that, not due to any of their fault, will become affected due to this process and that is what I am saying it’s a potential risk in 2025 because there are things that can happen. There is a potential sale of Mullet Bay in the future which then goes to the countries that could then also be allocated towards this [and] if the claim on Ansari happens before that because the claim is to get the money back to be able to fill this deficit that was created by him. In the meantime, though as a government we are responsible and we have to take care of the people so if everything that we do actually is taxpayers’ money – subsidy, sports – everything that we do is [using] taxpayers’ money.”
In the meantime, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs had told this newspaper in written responses to questions posed on the matter, that the State Secretary indicated that a financial solid and sustainable solution for the ENNIA matter will result in a lower interest rate for the expiring liquidity loans (as the financial risk for the Netherlands will be lower as the social consequences are limited). “Yes, the Council of Ministers is aware of this matter and discussions are taking place. At this moment, separate discussions with Curaçao and the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten are taking place to come to a solution,” Jacobs said.