The people’s port

The people’s port

This afternoon’s debate in Parliament on the financial status of St. Maarten Ports Authority (see related story) promises to be interesting. Notably, the Central Committee meeting was requested by three members of the opposition – and one of the coalition parties.

On the proverbial hotseat will be new Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) Roger Lawrence, who – as luck would have it – comes from Harbour Group of Companies. The release announcing this gathering did not mention anything regarding the attendance of either the supervisory or executive board, so one would hope he is able to answer relevant questions of elected representatives.

Just about two years ago Global Port Holdings showed interest to operate the harbour on a long-term revenue-sharing lease agreement, as is the case with cruise facilities in Antigua, Cuba and The Bahamas, among others. It estimated the government-owned company’s debt at between US $180 and $200 million.

If that was reasonably accurate back then, one can only imagine how this amount must have grown since, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether the offer to take over these burdens and invest close to another $100 million – based on a so-called “request for proposals” – still stands is not clear.

In addition, the local company was defrauded of some $8 million, according to the courts, while it lost another $10 million in the botched Zebec deal to develop property against earlier agreements made with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL), also one of the harbour’s financiers. The minister has now been called on to provide some valuable insight about the people’s port.