Published On: Fri, Dec 8th, 2017

MP Heyliger foresees $100-million loss at government-owned companies

PHILIPSBURG – The meeting of Parliament about recovery plans after hurricane Irma was cut short on Thursday afternoon when National Alliance MPs left the meeting without a quorum. MP Theo Heyliger, who had just started chairing the meeting to enable MP Sarah Wescot-Williams to make a statement, had no other option than to adjourn the meeting to a later date.

Earlier, Heyliger had painted a bleak picture of the main government-owned companies. “GEBE will lose 35 percent of its revenue, the airport 50 percent next year. The harbor will see fewer than one million cruise passengers in 2018. How are these companies going to cope? They each employ a substantial number of people. We are looking at a loss of $100 million between these three companies alone.”

Heyliger suggested to engage the cooperation of experts from the Central Bank with the finalizing of the National Recovery plan.

Earlier in the meeting, Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Rafael Boasman reiterated information he had also volunteered at Wednesday’s press briefing about recovery efforts.

“Bank-executed projects will be around 15 percent and recipient-executed project 85 percent.” Boasman said. “This means that St. Maarten will have to come up with most of the plans.”

The Prime Minister said that there is a possibility for the execution of early recovery projects through direct financing from the Netherlands and not from the trust fund deposited at the World Bank. These projects cover issues like safety, housing, food and income.

Boasman said that the government is currently not able to provide a concise list of recovery projects; he said that organizations like the White and Yellow Cross and the Red Cross are already involved in what he called ‘low hanging fruit-projects.’

Minister Emil Lee (Public Health, Social Development and Labor) said that his focus is on the interim-phase between the state of emergency and the recovery phase, because it will take time for structures to be put in place.

“The new hospital is the first priority project,” the minister said. “Irma clearly has changed things. We are now looking at a design that is able to withstand 200 miles per hour winds – a concrete structure that can withstand the new normal.”

The hospital is the cornerstone of the healthcare system, the minister pointed out. “It is critical that this project begins as soon as possible because we  may have to go through two more hurricane seasons before it is finished. The sooner we begin, the better it is.”

Minister Lee has requested a grant of $25 million from the Netherlands to cover the additional costs of the new hospital design that was originally budgeted at $75 million.

Secondly, Lee said, the government needs better data about issues like housing and insurance. The third priority is compliance, an issue that covers several ministries. “For instance the VROMI-ministry. We want to build back better but how is that defined?” The minister also looks at compliance with occupational safety, at labor compliance and at personal safety at the airport where mold has taken over the building.

“We are going from a tourism to a construction economy. That will be a vibrant economy, but how compliant is it? This is also an issue for SZV; it has less income and more demands.”

Minister Lee furthermore mentioned a cash-for-work program, designed to support un- and underemployed citizens. The program would offer opportunities to generate income by working on projects related to for instance cleanups, home repairs and vector control. “That is a way to get some money to people, without it being a grant.” Emergency housing and home repairs can also not wait for the release of recovery funds, Minister Lee said.

Photo caption: MP Theo Heyliger. Photo Hilbert Haar.