Leonard submits questions to Gibson about Moody’s and airport meeting

PHILIPSBURG–United People’s (UP) party Member of Parliament Tamara Leonard has submitted a series of questions to Finance Minister Richard Gibson about the downgrading of the country’s rating by Moody’s financial services and a meeting he had with the Princess Juliana International Airport SXM management team.

She indicated in her letter sent via Chairwoman of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams that Gibson could submit his answers in writing to Parliament.

“My original intention was to request a public meeting of Parliament. However, for expediency, I have opted for this route to get as much information as possible to acquire a better understanding of the current situation,” Leonard stated in her letter.

She said she had taken note of some of the public statements, including the ones the Finance Minister made in the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. “In view of the latest developments, amongst them the downgrading of the island by Moody’s, I wish to seek clarifications,” she said.

Leonard wants to know when Gibson first learnt that Moody’s intended to downgrade the country and what he did when he learnt of it. “Why did you not inform Parliament during the Budget Debate about the pending downgrade?”

Gibson is asked to provide Parliament with detailed information on the reasons Moody’s gave to him for the downgrade.
“Could any of these reasons have been foreseen and if so what was done, if anything, to prevent the downgrading? What effects will or has the downgrading caused for the country?” she asked.

She requested the plans to restore St. Maarten to its previous rating.
Gibson stated during the budget debate that St. Maarten had an “enviable” debt to gross domestic product ratio. Based on this, Leonard asked why Moody’s had downgraded the country.

Moody’s report indicated that the economic growth rate for St. Maarten is 0.5 per cent, while the region is projecting more than four per cent. “What is Government’s plan to grow the economy?” she asked in her letter.

Leonard said Gibson had stated several times in the press briefing of April 13 that the turnover tax was six per cent. She wants him to clarify this and explain when the additional one per cent was added and whether Government intends to increase the turnover tax.
Gibson stated during the April 13 press briefing that he had met with the management of the Airport and had urged them not to impose an import duty on cargo handlers.
“In what capacity did you meet with management? Was the meeting with the Airport a decision by the Council of Ministers?” Leonard asked in the letter. “Have you met with the cargo handlers and if not, will you be meeting with them given the fact that complaints were made publicly against the Airport management and the proposed new fees they intend to implement?

“Would you agree that given the fact that your son is on the Airport Board and the fact that you own a business at the Airport, your meeting with the Airport management could be considered a conflict of interest and a possible violation of ‘integrity’ standards?
“You also stated during the budget debate that Government could borrow millions of dollars on the capital market. The question is how much does government intend to borrow and for what purpose and when? How would that loan be repaid?

“Furthermore you gave the impression that Government has the intention to impose ‘import duty.’ How would that affect the duty-free status of the country?”

Leonard asked whether the Council of Ministers had instructed the Airport to direct its decisions to Gibson as Minister of Finance or to the Council itself. “If so, why? Does this not violate the arms-length policy towards Government-owned companies which is currently in place? What is the position of the Minister of TEATT [Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication – Ed.] in these cases and is the Ministry of Finance now tasked with affairs pertaining to the Airport?

“What is the reason for the stagnation of the Airport’s capital improvement programs, particularly the construction of a new FBO [fixed-base operations – Ed.] facility and other projects, given that Government has already issued the necessary building permits over four months ago?

“What is the situation with regard to the reinstatement of Ms. Regina LaBega who is at present on leave of absence from her position as managing director of the Airport? There were talks about negotiations to appoint her as a consultant to the Airport to ensure continuity, however, given your stand against hiring consultants, can it be concluded that this has affected the appointment of Ms. LaBega as consultant to the airport?”

Source: Daily Herald Leonard submits questions to Gibson about Moody’s and airport meeting