PHILIPSBURG–United Democrats (UD) Member of Parliament (MP) Dr. Luc Mercelina said on Sunday that he supports any alternative financing for the reconstruction of Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA).
“I appreciate the fact that the government of St. Maarten is looking at alternative ways to finance the so-needed reconstruction of our international airport through, for example, the Vida Nova [Pension Fund and Bank – Ed.],” Mercelina said.
“It is already two years ago that Hurricane Irma destroyed our airport and until now only some damage control measures have been executed for the PJIA.
“There have been negotiations with the Dutch government through the World Bank and parallel to the World Bank, and with the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the financing of the reconstruction of the airport.
“The debatable conditions imposed by the Dutch government attached to the financing – being the introduction of a CFO [Chief Financial Officer] from the [Amsterdam airport] Schiphol Group, screening of the management team of the PJIA and board members, and commitment towards the implementation of some recommendations by the World Bank – have been agreed upon, realising the urge to reopen our international airport. Unfortunately, until today no date has been set for the initiation of the reconstruction project of the airport.”
He said the Dutch government is “fully aware” that St. Maarten depends on the airport for the restoration of its economy that has been destroyed by Hurricane Irma.
“We are now already two years struggling with a deteriorating fragile economy carried by a destroyed airport. We have to ask ourselves how much the financial damage has been for the country as a consequence of not reconstructing and not having a fully-operational airport for the country since the passing of the hurricane. We cannot market St. Maarten as a vacation destination if we do not have an adequately operational airport.”
Mercelina said hotels and resorts are refusing to reopen as long as the airport is not fully functional.
“Taxi drivers at the airport are struggling. We still have a huge unemployment rate as a consequence of our poor economy. We must not forget that the tourism-related sector accounts for 45 per cent of the GDP [gross domestic product], that four-fifths of the labour force is engaged in the tourism sector and that tourism accounts for approximately 73 per cent of foreign exchange income.”
He said also that the much-needed US pre-clearance has never been included in the discussions with the Dutch for the airport reconstruction financing.
“To my knowledge, there are no definitive agreements on the loans to finance the reconstruction of the airport. The neighbouring islands no longer have confidence in the recovery of St. Maarten and are fully working on the rebuilding and expansion of their own airports.
“As I have stated in the past, and I repeat, there are no rational explanations for delaying the financing for the reconstruction of our direly needed airport. At this particular stage I will, if necessary, fully support any alternative financing initiative that will commit to restoring our economy through a faster reconstruction of the airport of St. Maarten.”