MP Rolando Brison (file photo)
PHILIPSBURG–Members of Parliament (MPs) on Thursday approved United St. Maarten (US) party MP Rolando Brison’s initiative law authorizing government to undertake the sale of St. Maarten’s shares in United Telecommunications Services (UTS).
Eleven MPs voted in favour of the draft law. There were no votes against. Some MPs said they will hold Finance Minister Perry Geerlings responsible for ensuring that proceeds from the sale go towards areas that he promised it would go to, such as to Justice Ministry workers.
The passing of the law gives government the green light to proceed with the sale of its 12.5 per cent minority shares of UTS, and averts one of the threats facing UTS St. Maarten including the dilution of shares.
Brison’s 10-page draft law contains articles focusing on the justification of why the law is necessary; an urgency clause; motivation for the sale of UTS and it outlines the financial consequences.
St. Maarten holds 12.5 per cent shares in UTS, while Curaçao as majority shareholder holds 87.5 per cent. Curaçao has already completed the sale of its shares to Cable and Wireless Communications’ parent company Liberty Latin America. The June 1, deadline for the sale of St. Marten’s shares has already passed, but after conversation with the buyer some time was granted to get a national decree passed in parliament.
Brison said government has indicated that the groundwork has been done and they will be ready to proceed with the next steps once the law has been passed.
Several MPs wanted guarantees about where the funds from the sale will be allocated. Geerlings had said during the debate of the 2019 budget that the proceeds from the sale will amount to some NAf. 21 million, and from the proceeds government intends to use NAf. 12 million to reduce its arrears towards the TelEm Group “as strongly suggested” based on the Kingdom Instruction of 2015.
Additionally, some NAf. 8 million will be used to offset expenses for the “yet unknown financial effects of repairing the salary constraints of our own Police Force as far as this is necessary, retroactive.” The one million remaining can be used to alleviate social needs of residents and for projects at schools such as a school food programme, or elsewhere, the minister had said at the time. Still expected, are the possible proceeds of the sale of the only UTS subsidiary that is not included in the current sale agreement (Blue Nap).
In defending his initiative law, Brison said his intention is to bring a budget amendment to allocate the funds on the income side as well as for the spending of the funds. He said MPs are the ones who are the “guarantees” that the funds will be allocated to where it needs to be allocated, as MPs are the ones who have to approve the budget amendment. “It is our right and duty as MPs to present amendments and passing it to ensure that it goes to Justice Ministry workers.”
The initiative taker said he is proud to say that the law will pave the way for justice workers to get much-needed funds. A rough calculation of the NAf. 8 million that is expected to go to 253 Justice Minister shows that each worker would be entitled, in a worst-case scenario, to about NAf. 31,620 each, Brison said.
Geerlings, who was present at the meeting, said he is happy to have reached a point to conclude the law. He said there had been collaboration between Brison and the Ministries of Finance and Justice. Time was not on the side of government to get this done and working with Brison was a solution “that we took. “It was a mature solution and I am appreciative of this. Government can support the initiative law of MP Brison and I hope that we can conclude this asap,” Geerlings said.
He said once the law has been passed government would then need to conclude some other things. Leading up to the debate, negotiations had taken place with the buyer and an extension of the timeline has been granted. Geerlings assured that government “will finish this in timely manner that is satisfactory for all parties.”
Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever, who was also present at the meeting, said a lot of preparatory work had been done in the process. St. Maarten had been presented with four options and the country had to choose the best one in which it had to take TelEm into consideration and go through the due diligence of a number of organisations. He thanked everyone for their cooperation.