Published On: Wed, May 26th, 2021

Venomous exchange with Knops yields no results

PHILIPSBURG — The battle between Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and outgoing State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) about the payment of the fifth tranche of liquidity support has at times taken venomous turns over the last month. Now the moment of truth is near: will Jacobs dance to Knops’ tune of will she refuse to bend and thereby let the country run out of money? The deadline Knops set is May 26, while Jacobs has demanded payment by May 21 – a deadline that had passed in the meantime.

Trouble started on March 26 when Knops, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra discussed in a meeting of the Kingdom Council of Ministers with Minister Plenipotentiary René Violenus the demand to provide clarity about the position of St. Maarten’s parliament with regard to the establishment of the Caribbean Development and Reform Organization (COHO). The Council mandated Knops to approve the provision of liquidity support if the parliament’s clarification on this point was satisfactory.

On April 15 the parliament provided the clarification and a day later Knops approved of it. In its meeting of April 23, the Kingdom Council of Ministers gave the green light for the fifth tranche of liquidity support. St. Maarten stood to receive 39 million guilders (almost $21.8 million) under this agreement.

But this is not what happened. On May 6, Jacobs sent a letter to Prime Minister Rutte with a copy for Minister of Home Affairs Kajsa Ollengren and State Secretary Knops in which she expressed her concerns about delays in handling the loan agreement for the liquidity support.

Jacobs complained that she was not getting any answers from Knops and that her Minister Plenipotentiary Violenus was stonewalled by referring him to staff members of Knops. The Dutch Representative in St. Maarten could not get any information either but told Jacobs that the delay was probably due to understaffing as a result of the May vacations.

Jacobs noted in this letter that she saw no perspective for the completion of the loan agreement and asked Rutte to urge Kingdom Relations to send the agreement to St. Maarten – as soon as possible and preferably before the end of the week in which she wrote her letter. This way Jacobs demanded a reaction within two days, on Friday, May 8 at the latest.

“This way you’ll make sure that the funding will become available to St. Maarten the latest at the beginning of next week,” Jacobs wrote.

Rutte did not answer the call. Instead, he referred the letter to Knops, who is responsible for Kingdom Relations. And when Knops decided to respond, things started heating up quickly.

On May 12 two things happened. Knops wrote a letter to Jacobs and Jacobs wrote a letter to Knops.

Knops opened fire first. He announced that he had put liquidity support on hold until the government had acted “sufficiently vigorous” to rectify the problems at Princess Juliana International Airport.

“Signing of the loan-agreement for the fifth tranche of liquidity support has been suspended due to the very worrisome developments in the field of corporate governance at Princess Juliana International Airport,” Knops wrote, adding that the trust in St. Maarten’s government has been damaged and that Jacobs had not lived up to promises to establish good governance at the airport.

Knops noted, without calling anybody’s name that the director of the airport holding (Dexter Doncher) and two members of the supervisory board (Glenn Daniel and Rochelle Hodge) “have violated the framework of good governance over and over again.”

Knops also referred to the questionable dismissal of airport-director Brian Mingo (in the meantime back on the job at the orders of the court) and to the fact that the Schiphol Group representative in the holding’s supervisory board (James Fazio) was often left out of the loop.

To cut a long story short: Knops reproached Jacobs for not taking enough action to straighten things out at the airport.

On the same day, Jacobs wrote a letter to Knops in which she sounded the alarm. The delay in the payment of liquidity support “results in such a deterioration of our financial position that we will have to stop making payments within short and that the government apparatus will come to a halt because of this with all the consequences for public order and security.”

Jacobs refers to the decision by the Kingdom Council of Ministers (to approve the fifth tranche of liquidity support) and assumes that this decision will be executed as soon as possible.

Four days later Jacobs produces another letter in which she first outlines the events between March 26 and April 23, before blundering into a remark that does not make any sense at all. It refers to Knops’ letter of May 12, in which he states that he answers Jacobs’ letter of May 6 on behalf of the cabinet – an obvious referral to the Dutch government. Nevertheless, Jacobs writes: “You speak in your letter on behalf of the cabinet. Which cabinet are you referring to and based on what?”

Jacobs maintains that Knops did not have a mandate “to take any action apart from executing the decision by the Kingdom Council of Ministers. You attempt to suspend the approved liquidity support until you can present the decision again in the Kingdom Council of Ministers. This confirms that you were not lawfully authorized to do this.”

Jacobs furthermore charges that Knops imposed additional conditions that were not discussed in the Kingdom Council of Ministers and that decisions made by the Council are not honored. “We conclude again that an agreement is not an agreement.”

Jacobs goes on to label Knops’ actions as “a flagrant disrespect for all the steps the government has made to ensure the completion of the plan for the improvement of corporate governance (at the airport).”

Even better: Jacobs states that her government “has already taken steps to reinstate corporate governance at the airport” and that there are no delays in the reconstruction project. “Reconstruction is on course within the current timeline.”

Jacobs concludes that Knops’ actions put vital government processes at risk. “Because of your actions we are unable to meet our financial obligations.”

Jacobs asks Knops to provide liquidity support by May 21 – a day that, as far as we know, has come and gone without any money arriving from the Netherlands.

To be continued.