Published On: Thu, Dec 20th, 2018

This does not add up

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

Oh, oh, St. Maarten managed to generate some bad publicity again and the attempts by Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin to explain herself do not come across as utterly convincing.

The story is this time, as most readers probably have learned by now, about the financing of repairs to the airport.

The name of former MP Silvio Matser has not been mentions yet in this context but that is most likely only a matter of time.

State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) lit the fire under this issue in his progress report about post-Irma reconstruction.

The site koninkrijskrelaties.nu (kingdomrelations.now) reported about this issue under the following headline: “Sint Maarten haalt neus op voor 100 miljoen hulp voor oplappen vliegveld.”

In short: St. Maarten has turned down an offer of 100 million (for clarity: that’s dollars) for repairs to the airport. The expression “neus ophalen” is a nice touch. Literally, this means sniffing up snot through your nose. In the proverbial sense the term describes an arrogant attitude, like, this offer is below my standards.

We’re talking about a lot of money here: one hundred million greenbacks. The Netherlands and the European Investment Bank are prepared to donate half of this money as a gift and to provide the other half as a loan. Such offers don’t come by every day.

State Secretary Knops writes this in his progress report about post-Irma reconstruction:”I am concerned about recent developments concerning the repair of the airport terminal. There is a completed plan that was approved under conditions by the members of the steering group of the trust fund.”

Those conditions have now become a stumbling block. They have to do with integrity and with positions in the management and the supervisory board of the airport. Clearly, Knops has sniffed out a rat here. Good man.

The state secretary notes in his report that the government of St. Maarten “seems for the time being not to be cooperating with this solution; it has in the meantime engaged in talks with other financiers.”

Those financiers will demand high interest rates, Knops warned, adding that reconstruction efforts will not be their main concern.

This reminded me of the plan former Justice Minister Roland Duncan once launched for the construction of a new prison and associated facilities. It had a price tag of $100 million and the minister was seemingly prepared to pay 10 percent interest. It has never been established that part of this interest-windfall would fall off the wagon at the back end of this deal and end up in pockets where it does not belong, but the thought has crossed my mind.

Something similar seems to be in the works now with the multi-million reconstruction of the airport terminal.

I read somewhere that the prime minister wants to compare the conditions set by the World Bank with those of other financiers. I thought: really? Would there be others in the market prepare to give away $50 million? That aspect of the World Bank offer alone makes looking for other financiers a big waste of time.

I understand though: $100 million is a lot of money and if only one percent ends up in the wrong hands, we’re already talking about a million bucks.

This government recently said – through Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever – that it stands united against corruption. The prime minister has said that she is committed to working with the World Bank. Then they start looking for other financiers while there is a gift of $50 million screaming to be accepted.

Does that add up? Not in my book, so I am comforted by the thought that any loans the government might consider are still subject to approval by the Board Financial Supervision (Cft). For the people living on our island it is nice to know that there are still some serious and knowledgeable people looking after their interests.

SXM Airport ribbon cutting ceremony opening temp terminal building

Photo caption: (L to R) CFO and Acting CEO, Ravi Daryanani; Honorable Minister of TEATT, Stuart Johnson; COO Michel Hyman and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Directors, Alex Dijkhoffz; here on photo caught in the act of cutting the ribbon for the opening of the temporary terminal building facility of the ground floor of the SXM Airport. Photo SXM Airport.