PHILIPSBURG--Independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel said on Sunday that information he obtained indicates that Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and her government are attempting to change the corporate structure at Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA).
He said the change could “give control of all airport assets” to the Corporate Governance Council (CGC), a move recommended by the St. Maarten Task Force Corporate Governance and one which Emmanuel described as “worse than previously thought and confirms this government’s ongoing deception.”
Emmanuel said that via a letter dated February 20, 2021, Jacobs had informed State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops that the Council of Ministers had approved several elements addressing corporate governance at the airport, including strengthening of the CGC by establishing a foundation with a two-tier system.
The airport holding company PJIAH will require approval of the shareholder (government/Council of Ministers) for transactions in which the shareholder will be required to request advice of the CGC.
The CGC advice will be mandatory and will include, but not be limited to, acquiring and developing real estate and participating in any other real estate enterprise or corporation with similar or related objectives, leasing, mortgaging or in general encumbering airport-owned real estate and determining the annual budget and the multi-annual budget.
Additionally, the Council of Ministers also approved adjusting the articles of incorporation of the airport operation company PJIAE and PJIAH to safeguard good corporate governance.
Emmanuel noted that the letter did not make mention of what was bad or poor with corporate governance at PJIA in the first place. It further mentions that a development, operations and maintenance agreement (DOMA) which further delineates the relation between PJIAE and PJIAH will be drafted, based on the understanding that remaining assets of PJIAE will be transferred to PJIAH and avoid the risk of losing assets to creditors.
“It is noted that the Prime Minister in this same letter mentioned her concerns to Knops regarding giving such extensive authority to the CGC, stating that it does not solve any checks-and-balances issues at PJIA. But she should have told Knops plainly, ‘No, this is not acceptable.’
“Advice isn’t meant to be something you must take. In this construct, if the CGC says ‘no’ to the budget, what you basically have is another CFT just for PJIA and would set a dangerous precedent for other government-owned companies,” Emmanuel said.
“But since she did not say that and only voiced her concern and since we have not heard about this from the Prime Minister or anyone in her government or from MPs supporting her government, we can only assume that State Secretary Knops wants what he was promised.
“These decisions were taken at the start of the year, we are now in June. We have been asking for information about what Knops wants from the airport. If everything mentioned in this letter is what Knops is expecting to happen, now we know why the NAf. 39 million hasn’t been released to St. Maarten,” Emmanuel said.
“The Prime Minister is trying to find a way to sell this to her coalition and the people of St. Maarten. And, if anything has changed in the last five months since that letter was sent, we don’t know about that either, because the Prime Minister still refuses to be clear with the public and Parliament about what Knops wants. But now we know what the COM’s decision was and that Knops apparently wants everything mentioned in that letter to materialise.”
He said the letter had been sent to Knops three months before the Council of Ministers decided to suspend PJIAH Managing Director Dexter Doncher. “Doncher was in the way of two things happening at PJIA: the renewal of the cooperation agreement with Schiphol with amendments beneficial to St. Maarten and PJIA, and the corporate structure changes that the PM obviously knew that the COM had already approved to implement.
“This is the same PM who talks about good corporate governance at PJIA and then cunningly turns and throws Doncher under the bus three months after she had already sealed his fate, then used the case with the CEO as a convenient excuse. Adding insult to injury she casually told the good gentleman that she won’t let him stand in the way of the country’s progress, knowing that he wasn’t. This is devious behaviour on another level,” Emmanuel said.
“This government has known for five months what it intends to do at PJIA and not a word or explanation to the public. This government pretends that it does not know why NAf. 39 million in liquidity support isn’t coming, when it knew all along that it has not lived up to the ridiculous promises it made to Knops. It is no wonder the State Secretary called this PM a liar and her government untrustworthy,” Emmanuel said.
He added that these sweeping changes at the country’s primary asset must come to Parliament and will be addressed via official letter and on the floor of the legislature.