From left: Finance Minister Ardwell Irion, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs, NRPB Director Claret Connor and NRPB Legal Advisor and Deputy Director Abel Knottnerus.
PHILIPSBURG–Authorities came one step closer to finalising outstanding agreements to pave the way for the financing of the reconstruction of Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) on Thursday, when Members of Parliament (MPs) unanimously passed a motion regarding government’s authority to sign these agreements during an urgent session.
The adoption of the motion means that Finance Minister Ardwell Irion is now in a position to finalise the signing of an agreement with PJIA’s bondholders. which will allow for the immediate release of US $5 million in insurance proceeds and “get the airport out of the woods,” Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs said.
Another step in this process would be to sign the agreements with the World Bank and the European Investment Bank “and get to work. The time for talking is over. We need to get the airport back up and running, and we need to start now,” Jacobs noted prior to handling the motions. Jacobs had said that while the motion was redundant since the interim government is fully authorized to sign agreements with the bondholders, it was a necessary step to move forward in this process.
The motion, which was tabled by United St. Maarten Party (US Party) MP Frans Richardson, resolved that the motion of Parliament, dated September 25, 2019, in which five ministers were dismissed by Parliament, does not restrict any caretaker or interim minister from signing the legal agreements in relation to the Airport Terminal Reconstruction Project with the World Bank, European Investment Bank (EIB) and PJIA or the concession undertaking.
According to the considerations of the motion, the PJIA terminal building should be repaired as soon as possible; PJIA and government through the National Recovery Programme Bureau (NRPB), have prepared the Airport Terminal Reconstruction Project and the motion of Parliament, dated September 25, did not intend to restrict any caretaker minister from signing the legal agreements in relation to the Airport Terminal Reconstruction Project with the World Bank, EIB and PJIA or the Concession Undertaking and Disbursement Agreement, which were attached to the motion.
Jacobs said during government’s second week in office, the Council of Ministers met with NRPB to discuss the impasse in the negotiations with the bondholders. While government expected the airport bondholders to understand that the new government would not be bound by the motion of September 25, this proved not to be the case.
“Despite attempts of our interlocutors to make it very clear that the interim government enjoys the support of the majority of Parliament and is fully authorized to sign the different legal agreements, we were informed late last week that the bondholders continue to insist on a declaratory motion of Parliament. This motion is simply to confirm that the motion of September 25 does not restrict government from signing the legal agreements with the bondholders, as well as the other agreements for the financing of the reconstruction of the Airport,” Jacobs explained.
The Council of Ministers also met on Thursday, November 28, with the Corporate Governance Task Force for the airport, which was established earlier this year to design and implement a corporate governance improvement plan for the airport.
The Task Force is chaired by former Notary and Chair of the Airport’s Supervisory Board Mike Alexander and Professor Frank Kunneman, economic advisor Rob van den Bergh, advisor Joanne Dovale-Meit, Airport Compliance Officer of PJIAE Shirley Pantophlet and the airport’s internal auditor Troy Washington.
The meeting with the Task Force showed the Council of Ministers that there is a real need to strengthen corporate governance at the airport and government made it clear to the Task Force that it wants to see action, not just talking, but real action to improve the situation.
She said throughout the course of last week, MPs were able to peruse a package of legal agreements related to the airport and ask questions to legal representatives of the NRPB about the different agreements. Several MPs made use of the possibility. She stressed that government considers the financing for the reconstruction of the airport a top priority.
On government’s first day in office, Tuesday, November 19, the Council of Ministers met with the NRPB and the management of PJIAE to receive information on the financial situation of the airport, the plan for the reconstruction of the terminal and the negotiations with the Bondholders.
On its second day in office, Wednesday, November 20, the Council of Ministers visited the airport terminal and received a detailed presentation and tour from the airport’s project team. There is a detailed reconstruction plan that anticipates and is compatible with US preclearance plans.
On its third day in office, Thursday, November 21, the Council of Ministers again met with the NRPB to discuss next steps in the negotiations with the bondholders. Instructions were given to make all draft legal agreements available to Parliament, so that MPs would have access to the same information that government received as newly appointed Ministers.
On its fourth day in office, Friday, November 22, the Kingdom Council of Ministers agreed with government’s request to extend the overdue repayment of the bridge loan of US $15 million to the government of the Netherlands until January 15, 2020. Jacobs said this provided a little bit more time for government and the airport to finalise the agreement with the bondholders, because without this agreement the insurance proceeds held by the bondholders would not be released and without the insurance proceeds the airport and government are not able to pay back the bridge loan that was provided by Netherlands.
Irion said at the start of the meeting that government had taken the concerns of MPs into consideration and immediately began to open the communication on the airport financing and made documents available for Parliament to review. He alluded to a motion tabled by former St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) MP Claude “Chacho” Peterson, which he said had been politicized and was not what the bondholders had wanted. He said the motion presented yesterday had been simple and clear.
Comments about the politicising of Peterson’s motion were rebuffed by SMCP MP and former caretaker Prime Minister Wycliffe Smith who said the motion had been factual.
Monday’s meeting which began after 10:00am wrapped up around 7:00pm after several MPs gave their strong opinions about the airport project, made comments and posed questions; Jacobs responding to the queries from MPs and several adjournments.