Knops urges govt. to decide soon about airport grant/loan | THE DAILY HERALD




~ Says Dutch here to help ~


 PHILIPSBURG–The St. Maarten government must make a decision, post-haste, on financing the reconstruction of the Princess Juliana International Airport terminal building, as this is tethered firmly to the speedy recovery of the economy and bettering the wellbeing of the people, according to Dutch State Secretary for Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops.

  “It is astonishing that it takes so long” for the full recovery of the airport facilities and for a decision on a financing option, Knops, who was on a brief working visit here on Monday, told The Daily Herald.

  “I am not satisfied with the results so far. I believe there has to be a decision real soon. The financial situation at the airport demands this. There is an option on the table since two months,” said Knops. He reiterated that the Dutch government is here to help St. Maarten.

  If there is a better option than that of the Dutch, the local government should “go with it,” but the question to all politicians is if whether the options will financially burden the people for years to come, Knops said. 

  What is certain, he added, is “time is running out” for a decision on the airport project.

  The Dutch government has agreed in principle to fund the Hurricane Irma-battered airport terminal repairs via the World Bank-administered St. Maarten Trust Fund to the tune of a US $50 million grant. That amount will be matched by the European Investment Bank. Those two amounts will give the airport US $100 million to work with in addition to its insurance pay-out.

  The local government is not obligated to take the Dutch offer. However, if there is any solid proposal other than the Dutch, the emphasis should be on taking a decision.

  “If there is a concrete proposal that some people think is a better proposal, go ahead and take a decision,” Knops urged the Leona Romeo-Marlin Cabinet II. “Now, the Netherlands is blamed and I am blamed for it taking so long, but we are ready to deliver.”

  Complaining by the local government that details of the grant/loan are not on the table is “a bit strange,” said Knops. First an agreement on the general principles is needed, “after that we can agree on specific conditions.”

  Money to the magnitude of what the Dutch government plans to shell out for the airport is not given without assurances that it will be spent well, that the project will be executed based on proper expertise and that there are professionals at the airport helm, said Knops. 

  “I have seen nobody, no government, give US $50 million without conditions, so we asked for two positions in the executive board and supervisory board. These could be temporary to ensure in the phase of reconstruction all is spent properly,” said Knops. This condition has been communicated to Parliament and government.

  “Part of that deal was the Royal Schiphol Group was willing to assist. They visited St. Maarten already, but so far that had not been successful. They did not get access. … They wanted to know how the company was doing, but there were a lot of closed doors,” Knops said. “If they step in and if they deliver on the expertise then they have to be convinced of the fact that this is a profitable case and can contribute to the benefit of all.

  “It is not that I want someone to be looking out on my behalf. … The people have to be mutually acceptable to both governments. They will be selected based on their expertise.”

  The actual positions on the boards have not yet been identified.

  Knops is astonished is that such “a simple project” is taking so much time. “Every day around the world, airports are being built, rebuilt … so this is not the most challenging thing. … So far we have hardly seen any progress.”

  The slow progress has been fraught with “a lot of political discussions” about the grant/loan proposal that has been on the table since November 2018. “It’s been two months already. … We have done our part,” said Knops. 

  The airport is “a 100 per cent government-owned company and it has to stay a 100 per cent St. Maarten-owned company. We have no interest at all in having shares in this company. That is not my purpose, not at all. What we want to do is give this airport a good start with not too many financial burdens where it can collapse,” Knops said of the Dutch government’s intentions.

  The Dutch have no recourse against the local government if it does not take a decision on the future of the airport terminal reconstruction, given that St. Maarten is autonomous within the kingdom. Knops’ view is that the Dutch are here to help and only want what is best for the country and its people.

  The full recovery of the airport is listed as crucial and vital in the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP), he said. Based on that, political decisions have been made. Now it is time for the further steps, he noted. “This is a top priority and this is in, more ways than one, a test case of are we able and willing to cooperate.” 

  The funding of the new hospital is an example of how projects funded via the trust fund can move smoothly. The delay in the start of construction is primarily a concern for the local government, said Knops. “Sometimes these cases occur when you deal with companies that are in financial problems. So far, I understand the construction can go on.”

  The new hospital and the “national shame” that is the dump are complex projects, the airport simple, he said. “You give an order to a construction company. You make a business plan and run it because it is profitable.”

  Head of the Dutch Representation Office in Philipsburg Chris Johnson added that the hospital is “a perfect example” of a project with a business plan with completed groundwork and the Dutch government through the trust fund said it supports this, it is needed for the people of St. Maarten.

  A new hospital is needed and US $25 million was allocated from the trust fund. “It is actually an example that shows you from the side of the Dutch government it can work,” said Johnson.

  On the overall recovery of the country since the 2017 hurricanes, Knops said, “I am not satisfied. I think things can go faster and political decision-making can go faster and focused on priorities and in the interest of the people.”

Source: The Daily Herald