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Published On: Tue, Feb 9th, 2021

In the doldrums

By Hilbert Haar

The World Bank has finally sounded the alarm over the progress and viability of the airport reconstruction project. At the center of its concerns are attempts by the airport-holding’s board to fire director Brian Mingo and to send the complete board of the exploitation company packing.

The World Bank must have seen this coming. The project document published by the Trust Fund on the website sintmaartenrecovery.org neatly details the risks associated with the $129 million reconstruction project.

“The government scheme over the airport operation is highly complex,” this document states. “Decision making could be highly political.”

The complexity of the airport’s organization structure is not difficult to understand. The exploitation company (PJIAE) does the actual work, while the holding company (PJIAH) owns most of the airport’s assets. PJIAE leases buildings and other facilities from the holding for its daily activities. The holding is fully owned by one shareholder: the government of St. Maarten.

One would therefore think that the government calls the shots at the airport and that calling off the dogs at the holding that are after the blood of Brian Mingo and his supervisory board is a piece of cake.

Apparently it does not work that way, otherwise the World Bank would not have felt the need to point out the possible consequences of the holding’s intentions to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and State Secretary Raymond Knops. The latter may very well feel inclined to give Jacobs a call to remind her of the obligations that are associated with the funding by the World Bank and the European Investment Bank.

The potential consequences of the holding’s actions are damn serious. If it sticks to its guns it could mean that the funding that is theoretically available from the World Bank’s Trust Fund ($72 million) and from the European Investment Bank ($50 million) will no longer be accessible.

The stakes in this international poker game are high. It is clear that the holding’s plans to fire Mingo and with him PJIAE’s supervisory board are politically motivated. In other words: there is no practical or realistic reason to do this.

Let’s not forget that reconstruction of the airport has been described as “a high priority for the government.” And let’s not forget that the reconstruction project was approved on September 18, 2019, more than sixteen months ago.

Politicians have been pointing their sticky fingers at the World Bank as the cause for the slow progress of the project but it is becoming increasingly clear that those same politicians are the real problem.

When you start thinking about the makers and shakers that are operating in the shadows where you’ll find a lot of shadowy characters, that’s where you find a whole host of people salivating at the thought of a multi-million dollar project that is about (or supposed) to unfold right under their greedy noses. Who would not want a piece of that tasty cake?

World Bank procedures are standing in the way of manipulative procurement antics, but even if that were not the case, local contractors would have to bid against international competitors. And who is big enough to stand a chance in that market? Sure, whoever wins the contract will subcontract some of that work to local grunts but they know beforehand that they will be squeezed to the hilt.

If everyone comes to his senses, the reconstruction project could be completed sometime in 2023. That is almost six years after the devastating Hurricane Irma. But if common sense does not take back center stage, the airport could remain in the doldrums for years to come.

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Related articles:
Airport holding puts reconstruction funding at risk
Houdstermaatschappij zet reconstructiefinanciering op het spel



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