Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs expresses grave concern for the future of relations within the Kingdom, when out of one side of their mouths, the Dutch Government claims it is looking out for the welfare of the people of St. Maarten and continuously seeks ways and means to move the goal post even after conditions have been met and agreements signed. In the case of the recent move by the State Secretary of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations Knops to further delay the 5th tranche of liquidity support of 39 million Euros, Prime Minister Jacobs sees this as uncalled for and totally against a legally established decision and the rules of order of the Kingdom Council of Ministers (RMR) meeting.
The 5th tranche of liquidity support was first delayed in March 2021 when the agenda point for liquidity was removed for other unrelated reasons (need for assurances from parliament as to their stance on the Caribbean Entity for Reform and Development (COHO)) which was later resolved and approved after being placed on the subsequent RMR agenda. This latest delay of another three weeks is being cited as due to governance issues at the airport and goes against the conclusion made by the RMR meeting of April 23, 2021, whereby, it was decided that St. Maarten had met all the conditions to obtain the 5th tranche of NAf 39 million. The technical teams are quite satisfied with the work being done on the country package and will be meeting next week to look towards agreements for the next three months.
While there have been several attempts to push government to act, that could not be done before the proper substantiation was there for government’s interference (outside of meetings and letters) taking into consideration the Corporate Governance recommendations that require government to take the hands-off approach.
Government has acknowledged and is addressing those concerns with the necessary stakeholders within the constraints of the law, and the relevant stakeholders have expressed willingness to allow said processes to take place. Several meetings have been held with the airport management and boards to assure that the concerns are being addressed structurally with legal advice. Meetings will continue to be held to ensure all parties are on the same page as we move forward. This is the way government will ensure that proper procedures are followed to avoid further corporate governance issues which could jeopardize the continuity of the reconstruction of the airport, which is our gateway to our main economic driver. This is of high priority for the government of St. Maarten.
Prime Minister Jacobs stated, "Unfortunately, State Secretary Knops has moved the goal post without proper legal basis and is acting outside of his mandate by adding an additional condition for receiving liquidity support. We do not believe this is an effective way to offer support. Furthermore, the government of St. Maarten is obligated to make decisions in the best interest of its people irrespective of the Netherlands' political ideas and opinions. The legitimacy of the government of St. Maarten depends on the ability to address its matters domestically. As such, within the Council of Ministers, we have the responsibility of assessing and taking the right decision for St. Maarten, given the local context and relevant factors; with facts and not conjecture."
As it relates to the Princess Juliana International Airport Holding Company (PJIAH), St. Maarten is currently addressing that situation. Attaching this matter to the 5th tranche of liquidity support will further limit time for the decision-making process and coming to the best solution which also requires necessary finances. This is especially given the financial situation of St. Maarten. St. Maarten will not be able to meet many of its operational costs if the situation persists. This decision also negatively impacts the vital processes the State Secretary mentions in his letter, as the necessary finances to be able to do so remain out of reach.
Prime Minister Jacobs stated, "As Shareholder, we are dealing with the situation at PJIAH. To prevent further violations of a corporate governance nature, legal review is currently of the highest importance. Considering that further violations can delay the decision-making and execution of the Airport reconstruction project, we are in the process of structurally improving corporate governance at the Airport. The system of rules, practices, and processes by which a company is directed and controlled is the epitome of corporate governance. Structural changes are underway even as the evaluation of reconstruction bids continue. Based on the information provided by the Airport project team and the NRPB, the project is currently on track, contrary to statements made."
With regards to the many opinions from former political candidates and members of the opposition, Prime Minister Jacobs stated, “Contrary to the opinions thus far, St. Maarten has been genuine in dealing with the Dutch and has been open to all discussions for receiving support, both monetary and technical. Considering a good future partnership with the Dutch would be in the best interest of the people of St. Maarten, the Government of St. Maarten has operated in good faith. However, St. Maarten continues to have to fight for equity within the Kingdom at every turn. It’s unfortunate that the discussion recently held this past Wednesday in a Steering Committee meeting, whereby the progress of the airport was highlighted, and we confirmed that we are in the process of taking steps to bring improvements which have a legal trajectory, that the demissionair State Secretary goes beyond his authorities and decides not to move forward with the agreed upon liquidity as per the Kingdom Council of Ministers’ meeting of three weeks ago. Embittered politicians seeking to gain mileage on these unfortunate series of events only do more harm to St. Maarten and its people. The disrespect is not just towards the government, but to the entire population of St. Maarten.”
“As partners and for the sustainability of any partnerships, we should be able to listen and understand each other. The concerns of all other stakeholders warrant further discussion but should not result in the halt of the already approved liquidity support. The consequences are not suited for this issue,” Prime Minister Jacobs continued.
“The goal of Parliament and Government of St. Maarten, and the Kingdom of the Netherlands should be aligned, especially in these dire economic times, to safeguard the welfare of our people. As for this Government, regardless of inaccurate assumptions of some political opportunists, we will continue to work in the best interest of St. Maarten. There is lots of work to be done and though we are small, and financially strapped, we are determined to successfully achieve our goals of getting St. Maarten back on its feet. Our airport is vital to achieving such, and due diligence will be observed in all actions to safeguard our patrimony, the employees and wider community who depend on it for their livelihood,” Prime Minister Jacobs concluded.