PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Leona Romeo-Marlin and Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunications (TEATT) Minister Stuart Johnson escaped being sent home on Friday when separate votes of no confidence against them were tied and, as a result, not carried during the continuation of a public plenary session of Parliament on financing for Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA).
Seven Members of Parliament (MPs) from the governing coalition in parliament (United Democrats and St. Maarten Christian Party) voted against both motions and the seven members of the opposition (National Alliance and United St. Maarten party) voted for the motions, resulting in a 7-7 tie in both cases. The recent arrest of United Democrats MP Theo Heyliger as part of the Larimar investigation meant that only 14 MPs were available to vote.
Chairperson of Parliament Sarah Wescot-Williams explained that a majority vote from amongst MPs present at a meeting is needed for a decision to be carried. There is no procedure whereby the motions voted on Friday can be taken to another meeting. “Hence the conclusion that the motions have been rejected,” she said.
Friday’s session was the continuation of a meeting about the much-talked-about decision the Council of Ministers took to opt for a combination of a grant of US $50 million via the Dutch government-financed World Bank-administered Trust Fund and a loan of the same amount from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to finance the PJIA reconstruction.
The meeting opened with Romeo-Marlin answering questions and taking jabs at some MPs, at one point saying she was “surprised” at the “level of ignorance” of opposition MPs and suggesting that MPs had failed to read or understand government’s plan for PJIA. Some MPs took offence at the PM’s statements about not reading and about her referring to MPs as “opposition.”
The Prime Minister said she had taken note of “last minute attempts” to “defame” her. She said the country is facing a heavy debt burden and is struggling to fulfil its own obligations, let alone PJIA’s. Touching on the issue of government not granting a guarantee letter to PJIA, she said this would not have solved PJIA’s financial issues, as the facility needed funds, not a guarantee letter.
A guarantee letter might have been a short-term solution to convince bond-holders to release $55 million in insurance funds, but PJIA needs at least $100 million to finance its reconstruction.
“A guarantee letter was never a realistic option and would not have solved the financial problems of the airport – not six months ago and not today,” she said.
She said the World Bank and PJIA have estimated that a total amount of $143 million is needed for essential works at the airport. Even when all insurance proceeds are released by the bond-holders, PJIA still faces a financial gap of at least $100 million for essential works and operating expenditures.
The $100 million World Bank/EIB loan is being offered at 4.3 or 4.2 per cent interest over a loan period of 20 years and a grace period of five years. The Prime Minister said the terms of the loan are still to be finalised and an agreement is not yet signed.
The next step is to finalise the terms with parties. In negotiating these terms, government is looking to make them more favourable for PJIA.
The Prime Minister said MPs are creating the impression that the Council of Ministers is forcing PJIA to accept financial assistance from the World Bank and EIB, which is misleading, as PJIA’s management has not been able to secure necessary funding on the private market. It was at PJIA’s request that government secured funding and the PJIA accepted this option as a last report because there were no viable alternatives at this 11th hour.
PJIA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Brian Mingo touched on the absence of a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) at PJIA during the current financial crisis. Ravi Daryanani resigned as CFO at the end of January to take up another post, leaving the critical post empty.
Mingo said someone is needed to “crunch the numbers” and suggested that someone from Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands be secured to “sit in the position” temporarily and paid until the process of getting a CFO is finalised. He also spoke about support for PJIA’s Human Resources Department.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/85481-votes-tied-motions-against-leona-johnson-not-carried