~ Prime Minister says Government is just the facilitator of funds for reconstruction of PJIA ~

PHILIPSBURG--Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin represented Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) shareholder representative Tourism Minister Stuart Johnson on Monday during a meeting of Parliament dealing with government accepting conditions from the Dutch Government last week regarding the US $100 million funding from World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the reconstruction of the airport.

  The prime minister gave a timeline of events which led to her government accepting the terms given by the Dutch government.

  While in the Netherlands she negotiated a $50 million bridge loan to ensure that the airport can continue to pay its salaries and fulfil its other financial obligations in the coming months. She told MPs that conditions for the loan were suggested by the government of St. Maarten, not the other way around. However, opposition members were not satisfied with the way the government agreed to allow outside forces to have a say at PJIA.

  The prime minister maintained that in the absence of any alternative financing, the airport needed immediate financial assistance to ensure the continuation of its operations. Without this assistance, the airport would not able to pay salaries at the end of January, jobs would be lost and employees could no longer take care of families.

  The Council of Ministers (COM) unanimously agreed on January 8 to approve the proposal for financial assistance to the airport by the World Bank and the European Investment Bank. Under this proposal, $50 million will be provided to the Government of St. Maarten as a grant from the World Bank Trust Fund, which will be lent to the airport under favourable conditions. An additional $50 million will be become available as a loan through the EIB.

  United St. Maarten Party leader Member of Parliament (MP) Frans Richardson said there are inconsistencies with the prime minister’s statement, but the shareholder representative (Johnson) was too busy being on a cruise then to be in the House of Parliament.

  MP Rolando Brison said he would have liked to get the terms on paper for this so-called deal. He said at no time had the actual paperwork with all conditions been presented to parliament. He would like the prime minister to come clean and admit that there are only press releases and e-mails being exchanged between the Dutch Government and St. Maarten, and no paperwork yet on what the conditions really are.

  Former Prime Minister and now-MP William Marlin called the whole matter a publicity stunt and asked who was controlling whom. He said Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops was pulling the strings of the prime minister, or could it be MP Theodore Heyliger. Marlin would like government to come clean and admit that not all options were looked at before agreeing to whatever the Dutch wanted.

  The prime minister met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte during her working visit to the Netherlands to discuss all matters in general. Minister of Finance Perry Geerlings joined her when she met with Knops and the Schiphol Airport Group to discuss the details of the financial assistance and the Netherlands’ conditions.

  A key point in the discussions was the position of a member of the airport operating company PJIAE board of directors. The COM was only willing to accept this condition if the position in the board of directors would be temporary in nature to support the existing management with the reconstruction of the airport and only if the final candidate should be mutually agreed on by St. Maarten and the Netherlands. This was accepted by the Netherlands.

  Together with Schiphol and Princess Juliana International Airport, the government will now look for a candidate with experience in civil aviation and the (re)building of airports. The potential candidate does not have to be a Dutch national or someone presently working for Schiphol Airport.

  The COM has full confidence in the existing management, who will remain fully responsible for the airport’s day-to-day operations. The temporary member of the board of directors could assist PJIAE in getting the terminal fully up and running again in the fastest possible timeframe, Prime Minister Romeo-Marlin stated on Sunday.