THE HAGUE--Members of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Aukje de Vries and Rudmer Heerema, both of the liberal democratic VVD party, late last week sought clarity on reports that Windward Islands Airways International Winair is still in severe financial problems and needs another loan from the Dutch government.
In a press release issued on May 28, Winair announced that negotiations were ongoing with the Dutch government to secure a second loan. According to Winair, further financial support was needed for the airline to “rebuild its business and return to some degree of normalcy.”
The media highlighted this brief part in the elaborate press release about possible industrial action and the financial situation at the airline, which moved Members of Parliament (MPs) to submit written questions to caretaker Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management Cora van Nieuwenhuizen and caretaker State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops.
The Dutch government, which has a share of eight per cent in Winair, on December 31, 2020, announced that it had approved a US $3 million mortgage loan for Winair. The airline is in dire financial straits because of the severely reduced flight capacity as a result of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The loan was given at that time in order to safeguard the connections with St. Eustatius and Saba.
MPs de Vries and Heerema wanted to know whether it was correct that Winair was again negotiating with the Netherlands for additional financial support. “What is the financing need for the coming period? What is the state of affairs at Winair, the negotiations and what conditions are being set?”
The MPs further asked how the Dutch government, in case of a new loan, would ensure that the money was properly utilised, and whether again there would be security in the form of collateral. Winair’s main office was set as collateral for the first mortgage loan of US $3 million.
“What financial support did Winair receive from the Netherlands in connection with the coronavirus crisis, and also possibly before the coronavirus period? How were these funds deployed? How was the proper use of these funds secured? Why were these funds ultimately not sufficient? What is the deal with Winair’s main building as collateral? How have good governance and management been regulated at Winair?”
The MPs asked what the consequences would be for connectivity to Statia and Saba in case Winair were to go bankrupt. “Do you agree with the view that Winair is of great importance for the connections between and to the Caribbean parts of the Kingdom? What would be the financial consequences for the Netherlands of a bankruptcy of Winair?”
De Vries and Heerema informed about the plans to establish a ferry connection between the three Windward Islands, for which the Netherlands has made funding available and which originally was to start mid-2021. “What is the delay due to the coronavirus crisis? Can you guarantee that the ferry connection can start as soon as the islands reopen so tourism can restart?”
The MPs ultimately asked the minister and state secretary to indicate their vision for the future with regard to the participation of the Dutch government as a minority shareholder of Winair. The St. Maarten government owns the other 92 per cent of Winair’s shares.