PHILIPSBURG–The virtual public meeting on the airport’s reconstruction, finances and chief financial officer (CFO) on Wednesday ended prematurely when Members of Parliament (MPs) Sarah Wescot-Williams of United Democrats (UD), and Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson of Party for Progress (PFP) logged out of the digital platform used to host the meeting, resulting in lack of quorum.
It has happened in the past that Parliament sessions were suspended when MPs walked out of the legislative hall, leaving an insufficient number to continue the meeting. However, since Parliament moved to virtual sessions as a result of social-distancing measures imposed by government to mitigate the spread of coronavirus COVID-19, this is the first meeting to end with MPs “logging off.”
The more-than-five-hour-long session was on its second agenda point, where MPs were discussing the resignation of Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) CFO Gerben Stavast. A first round of questions was posed by MPs and airport officials had responded. The meeting was set to go into the clarification round.
Prior to logging off, Wescot-Williams had indicated to Parliament First Vice-Chair William Marlin that she had to leave the meeting.
The PFP faction had not given such a warning. With their disappearance, the virtual session was left with seven members, one less than required to continue the meeting.
“Today’s public meeting … was filed as an urgent request in February 2020. As a critical piece of infrastructure, the airport’s reconstruction is indeed urgent. That was agenda point one. Then we came to agenda point two.
“The personal decision and situation of a CFO that is no longer here has no relevance for what is happening in St. Maarten at this moment. We cannot, in good conscience, entertain wasting the time of the Prime Minister [Silveria Jacobs – Ed.] and the Minister of Finance [Ardwell Irion], only to hear in the media that they are not doing their job of finishing the stimulus [package] while we contributed to holding them hostage on a merry-go-round.
“We asked ourselves: ‘What is more important?’ That information not necessarily related to ‘the people’s business’ is repeatedly demanded or that we become serious about allowing government and its staff the space to do their work and deliver to us a stimulus plan worth commenting on?
“For the record, we have vowed during our campaign to never walk out on meetings and decision points that directly affect the people of St. Maarten. This includes … any post-disaster financing meetings, any important piece of legislation with international implications and, yes, the budget, as several currently sitting MPs have done in the past, with little to no remorse.
“We’re open to answering any questions you may have and remain committed to conducting efficient and effective work for the people of St. Maarten. Now is not the time for politics,” said PFP in a statement on social media shortly after the incident.
In the first round of questions, MP Christophe Emmanuel of National Alliance (NA) asked when Stavast had informed the airport’s advisory board of his resignation. He asked whether Stavast is still holding the CFO position and whether the airport has selected the CFO’s local counterpart.
Emmanuel asked how far along the airport is in the process of finding the CFO’s local counterpart. He also questioned why airport officials had made a working visit to the Netherlands in January.
Emmanuel asked about Stavast’s replacement and whether that person is currently in St. Maarten and working at the airport in an advisory capacity.
MP Claudius “Toontje” Buncamper of United St. Maarten Party (US Party) asked whether the person carrying out the task of the CFO is qualified for the position and whether they are going to manage the reconstruction funds independent of the airport’s managing board.
MP Rolando Brison of United People’s (UP) Party asked whether government would place a deadline on the airport by which the CFO’s local counterpart will be appointed. He also asked whether the chief executive officer (CEO) position has been evaluated.
PJIA CEO Brian Mingo said Stavast had left for personal reasons and that he could not go into the details of his departure. However, Mingo confirmed that Stavast still officially holds the CFO position.
Mingo said there were three candidates for the CFO’s local counterpart and the selection is being evaluated by PJIA’s supervisory board.
In response to Emmanuel’s question, Mingo said he and the replacement CFO candidate had had “a cup of tea” during the working visit in January. He confirmed that the candidate is current airport Financial Advisor Leo van der Meiden, who is now residing in St. Maarten.
Mingo also said Van der Meiden has taken over most of the CFO’s function. However, Van der Meiden does not have “signatory power.” The screening process for him to replace Stavast is ongoing, said Mingo.
Mingo indicated that several of the other questions require some time to prepare answers. The meeting is to be reconvened next week.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/pfp-and-sarah-walk-out-of-virtual-parliament-meeting