Published On: Sun, Feb 14th, 2021

Knops not happy with the way St. Maarten manages its airport

~ Political agreement no guarantee for smooth cooperation ~

THE HAGUE – State Secretary Raymond Knops is not happy with the way St. Maarten manages its airport. This appears from his answer to written question from Dutch parliamentarians about the airport’s reconstruction. A political agreement is not a guarantee for smooth cooperation, he observes.

“Investing in bricks and mortar at the airport is insufficient. The way the airport is managed and the accompanying checks and balances must also be tackled. Improving corporate governance is a condition to the release of funding.”

Taskforce Corporate Governance

Knops reports that St. Maarten’s government has established a Taskforce Corporate Governance. “But the government has hardly progressed with these plans. The agreement in the country package is to actively execute them.”

Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs told Knops during his visit in January that the SG-platform is going to execute the reform tasks that are part of the Caribbean Development and Reform Organization COHO. The secretaries-general of all ministries are part of this platform.

Knops wrote that the Netherlands is a 7.95 percent shareholder in Winair and that the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management emphasizes good governance in its role as shareholder representative. The state secretary notes that he is familiar with the fact that a former Winair-employee embezzled $41,230 from the company in 2012 and that this man is now an “active politician.”

The politician Knops refers to is the current president of parliament, MP Rolando Brison of the United People’s party (UP). Knops writes that Brison is no longer working at Winair and that he has repaid the money in full. The matter did not play a role in the decision-making process about financial support for the troubled airline.

In January, the Netherlands extended a €2.7 million (almost $3.3 million) loan to Winair. This is a mortgage-loan with the company’s airport building as collateral. Until the loan has been repaid in full, Winair is not allowed to pay out bonuses, dividends or profits. “With this loan Winair is for the short term out of trouble,” Knops writes.

The state secretary is not concerned about the vulnerability of political support for the establishment of COHO. “A very large majority of the parliament has expressed its support for the agreement and this has been confirmed in writing by the president of parliament,” Knops writes.

The CDA-faction refers in its questions to the arrest of businessman Francesco Corallo in 2016 and asks whether the community is protected sufficiently against inappropriate political interference. Not a problem either, according to Knops, who points to the structural strengthening of the RST, the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Common Court of Justice from 2022 on forward. The project-approach 2016-2019 has brought to light corruption, tax fraud, money laundering, forgery, fraud and embezzlement by politically exposes persons. “As a side-effect the resistance against corruption is increasing.”

Knops furthermore wrote that the Netherlands is paying for four classes of BPO (basic police training) and that these courses will be completed this year. The Dutch police provides for the next two years two full-timers for strategic support and one full-timer for management support.

The Kingdom Council of Ministers will take a decision about the fourth tranche of liquidity support for St. Maarten in its meeting of February 26. Knops is cautiously optimistic: “The experience with the reconstruction has taught us that a political agreement with St. Maarten is not a guarantee for smooth cooperation.”


Related articles:
Knops: “St. Maarten has made too little progress”
“Politieke overeenstemming geen garantie voor soepele samenwerking”