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Published On: Tue, Feb 16th, 2021

MPs renew attack on airport director Mingo

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PHILIPSBURG — Members of Parliament fired dozens of questions about the airport at Minister Ludmilla de Weever (Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication) during a central committee meeting on Monday that lasted almost five hours, but they will have to wait for the minister’s return next week Wednesday before they will get any answers.

Airport Director Brian Mingo gave a brief presentation, saying that the airport had been doing relatively well in 2020 by recording 37 percent of the passengers it handled in 2019, while the global average recovery-number is 25. MP Melissa Gumbs later remarked that using the numbers from 2016 as a baseline would have been more realistic than the comparison with the post-Irma performance in 2019.

Mingo said that the major work on the airport’s reconstruction is set to begin in June and that completion of the work will take 22 months. The estimated project cost stood at $107 million back in 2018, but indexation, the updated scope of the work and detailed design efforts would probably add 12 percent to this number, bringing it to $119 million. Mingo emphasized that these are estimates and that the real numbers will only become clear after the bids have come in during the month of March. He furthermore explained delays, saying that work on the tender could only begin after the funding was guaranteed in April 2020.

Parliamentarians asked about the airport’s current liquidity position, about the status of the FBO-project, the relocation of the fuel farm and the unrest among the airport staff.

MP Claudius Buncamper (USp) pointed out that last year 113 airport-staffers had signed a letter demanding the dismissal of CEO Mingo. Later Buncamper stated that an evaluation of Mingo’s functioning by the PJIAE-board gave the director a 92 percent approval rate, while at the same time the board of the holding is asking for his dismissal. Without providing any substantiation, Buncamper declared that the favorable evaluation from PJIAE is “worthless.”

Buncamper also asked why no counterpart for the Chief Financial Officer has been appointed yet while there is a suitable local candidate available.

MP Christophe Emmanuel noted that the construction cost for the airport back in the nineties had been around $90 million, claiming that the reconstruction is going to cost up to $131 million. “We are getting a brand new airport,” the MP concluded. Emmanuel failed to add that the $90 million of 1990 represents around $185.9 million in today’s money, so the comparison is rather off the mark.

Emmanuel asked why the Council of Ministers had asked the board of the airport holding “to hold off on the removal of the CEO.” He furthermore claimed that CEO Mingo “is collecting two salaries” and asked whether it is true that the Schiphol Group wants to buy out the bondholders.

MP Sarah Wescot-Williams had one pertinent question: “Are the minister and the ministry still committed to the reconstruction of the airport as agreed to by the government?” She noted that the current project was approved on September 18, 2019, and that the interim government led by Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs had signed off on the agreement on December 9, 2019.

“Is the airport still desirous of alternative financing?” Wescot-Williams asked. She also asked whether US pre-clearance can be included in the current plans.

Related article: Airport holding agreed with World Bank funding-conditions and still turned to Piper Jaffray

MP Buncamper asked whether there are plans to build a hotel near the airport and whether this is a plan from the airport or from another party. He also asked why the airport has two boards (one for the holding and one for the exploitation company) and whether the minister would entertain the idea of merging them into one as has been done in the past at the harbor.

Grisha Heyliger-Marten expressed her concerns about the airport as follows: “It operates like Vatican City with Mingo as the Pope and the board as its cardinals.”

At the end of the meeting MP Emmanuel urged the government to give the airport holding the tools to remove Mingo from his position. “He is a disease and a poison to the growth of the airport,” Emmanuel said, without explaining why he thinks this is so.

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




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