Much to be considered

Much to be considered

Parliament’s passage of a motion instructing government not to finalise or commit to any sale of Winair shares (see Tuesday newspaper) without due diligence and seeking the legislature’s blessings was noteworthy. Caretaker Finance Minister Ardwell Irion had announced intentions in that direction when presenting his draft 2024 budget two weeks ago and even included 13 million Netherlands Antillean guilders in related revenue.

He said there had been interest and that the company’s positive performance over the past two years including full repayment of its US $4.5 million loan sought from the Netherlands during the COVID-19 pandemic made this an optimal opportunity to sell. The first year of positive shareholder equity on the book value since 2010 is expected in 2024.

According to the minister, the national carrier itself is interested in such a scenario, as this would provide investment capital to continue growing especially with the addition of ATR planes for longer routes to complement the smaller Twin Otters traditionally used on shorter distances. Strategic local partners if possible with partial employee ownership would be the target.

However, the incoming United Resilient St. Maarten Movement (URSM), Democratic Party (DP), Party for Progress (PFP), Nation Opportunity Wealth (NOW) coalition apparently did not buy into the idea, at least not yet. The motion submitted by DP leader Sarah Wescot-Williams ultimately received unanimous backing.

That may seem a bit strange because not only Irion, but also two other outgoing National Alliance (NA) cabinet members are parliamentarians too at the moment. However, getting majority support for this year’s budget already at the end of the first quarter was obviously given priority, and rightly so.

When discussing the future of Winair one must keep in mind that in addition to St. Maarten, the Netherlands has a minority stake on behalf of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (so-called BES islands). It’s about the aviation business, but also ensuring connectivity especially for the latter two islands at affordable rates.

Just to illustrate, the same Dutch government is currently subsidising a pilot sea-link with the Makana Ferry, which complements the air service. So, although privatising state-owned airlines is generally seen as a good idea, there is much to be considered in this case.

The Daily Herald

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