MPs during Monday’s session of Parliament on the state of affairs at PJIA.
PHILIPSBURG–There was no quorum to vote on a motion presented by St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) Member of Parliament (MP) Claude “Chacho” Peterson to sign the legal agreements to finance the reconstruction of Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA).
This motion was presented during Monday’s session of Parliament on the airport’s state of affairs. Only seven MPs were present to cast their ballots, as four MPs stepped out before voting could take place. Caretaker Finance Minister Perry Geerlings addressed the bondholders’ concerns during Monday’s Parliamentary session. Geerlings said on Wednesday, October 23, that the bondholders were concerned about the motion of no confidence against five ministers which had been passed by Parliament on September 25, and whether the incoming interim government will honour the agreements with the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) or instead seek to reverse them.
The motion of no confidence also instructed the caretaker Council of Ministers not to enter into any contracts with third parties, whether collectively or individually. The World Bank and the EIB are considered third parties. Geerlings said at the time that various legal scholars were finalising an unqualified legal opinion to present to the bondholders to see if it would ease their concerns. Geerlings confirmed in Monday’s Parliamentary session that a legal opinion had been presented to the bondholders’ legal counsel on October 23. A day later, on October 24, the legal counsel said they still required a declaratory motion by Parliament which instructs the caretaker government to sign the legal agreements. In a press statement on Sunday, Peterson said the motion intended to “take away the uncertainty created by the motion of no confidence.”
The motion itself said the bondholders and other relevant parties required “comfort that the loan agreements signed are binding and will not be reversed or considered invalid.” The motion resolved that the caretaker Council of Ministers sign the financing agreements with immediate effect. Reactions to Peterson’s motion were divided, with the new majority of nine largely speaking out against its necessity. MP Frans Richardson of United St. Maarten Party (US Party) described Geerlings’ presentation as “scare tactics.” He said government does not need Parliament’s approval because approval had already been given through the passing of the 2019 budget, which had provisions for the airport reconstruction financing agreements.
“They [bondholders – Ed.] didn’t need any opinion from them [government lawyers]. You passed your own budget, the budget was approved with the loan in it,” said Richardson. This point was also voiced by several other MPs. “The budget is the highest form of guarantee the bondholders can have,” said MP Egbert Doran of National Alliance (NA) when motivating his vote, adding that a National Decree carries more weight than a Parliamentary motion. “Several things were approved in the budget, which included working out all the agreements in this loan. …[The budget] is stronger than anything, especially this motion,” said NA leader Silveria Jacobs. “You already have the authority to do what you have to do.” MP Ardwell Irion of NA said he had reached out to Peterson to see whether the motion could be adapted to address some concerns he had, but said he had been refused in his attempt at cooperation. Other MPs said the urgency of the airport’s financial constraints and the bondholders’ need for reassurance made the passing of the motion a priority. “While it is clear that we have already, as my colleagues said, approved this in the budget, I also understand the need and urgency to get our airport, and the reconstruction of it, up and on-the-go. … If the bondholders want the extra permission from the Parliament, why not just give it to them?” asked MP Tamara Leonard of United Democrats (UD). It is clear the bondholders are unwilling to sign the financial agreements, said MP Sarah Wescot-Williams of UD. “If that is the case, are we then going to stand with our pen in the hand … but the other parties are not willing to do so unless they hear from this Parliament. If it is, by motion, that is going to give them [bondholders] a feel of comfort in terms of signing … then I will be voting for that motion and hope that that ‘yes’ will see the signatures affixed to the different agreements that will get the airport started with its reconstruction,” she said.
Only seven members were still present when the motion came to a vote, which was less than the required eight MPs needed for a quorum. Present were Jacobs and Irion of NA; Wescot-Williams, Leonard, and MP Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani of UD; Peterson of SMCP; and independent MP Dr. Luc Mercelina, who also chaired the session. Richardson of US Party, Doran and MP Christophe Emmanuel of NA, and MP Rolando Brison attended the session, but were absent for the voting. Of those, only Richardson and Doran motivated their absences, with both saying they could not cast a vote for a motion without knowing the full details of the airport reconstruction agreements. Richardson said the original interest rates for the loans were estimated at 4.5 per cent.
In Monday’s session Geerlings said the interest rates would be between three and 3.5 per cent. According to Richardson, this was indication that the agreements had changed, and he would not give his vote for something he “knows nothing about.” Without a quorum, the meeting was adjourned until further notice.