Published On: Tue, Jan 22nd, 2019

MP Emmanuel announces motion of no confidence

PM Leona Romeo Marlin presentation Parliament on Airport Financing 2019012101

~ Minister Johnson absent from airport-debate ~

PHILIPSBURG – On the fringes of the parliamentary debate about the financing of the airport’s reconstruction National Alliance MP Christophe Emmanuel called Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin on Monday afternoon a liar, wondered whether the absent Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Stuart Johnson was on a gay cruise and announced a motion of no confidence against him.

Most opposition members criticized the government’s decision to accept Dutch conditions to the $100 million it will receive from the World Bank trust fund to get the airport back on its feet again. The reconstruction of the airport terminal is scheduled to be completed by December 2020.

Prime Minister Romeo-Marlin opened the meeting with a “factual overview” of the events that led to the acceptance of money from the trust fund and a $15 million bridge loan from the Dutch government.

In April 2018, seven months after Hurricane Irma, the airport asked the government whether the World Bank would be able to help out. The airport asked $64 million for the reconstruction of its facilities, the PM said. She quoted the airport’s disagreement with NAGICO over insurance payout, the inability to obtain local financing for its immediate needs and the uncertainty about the amount NAGICO would pay as reasons for the airport’s request.

“The Council of Ministers realized that there was no time to waste and addressed the request with the steering committee of the trust fund.” Marcel Gumbs, St. Maarten’s representative on the steering committee and Romeo-Marlin offered positions on the board of the airport holding and in its management as a guarantee that the reconstruction money would be spent correctly.

The trust fund will make $50 million available as a grant to St. Maarten; the government in turn will loan this money to the airport against a 4.45 percent interest rate; the principal is to be paid back in twenty years and there is a grace period of five years. The other $50 million will come as a loan from the European Investment Bank, but the conditions of this loan have yet to be explained.

Romeo-Marlin named three conditions for the grant and the loan: an integrity check of the airport, the completion of a corporate governance risk assessment and seats for experts on the holding-board and in the airport’s management.

The $15 million bridge loan the government secured from the Netherlands for the airport will become available in tranches and will be deducted from the $100 million coming from the trust fund and the European Investment Bank. While the Council of Ministers took “a difficult decision” to accept the conditions, the PM emphasized that the seats on the holding board and in the airport’s management are temporary and that parties have to agree on candidates.

Presentation Parliament on Airport Financing 2019012103

“The airport is in an extremely dire situation,” Romeo-Marlin said; hence (another) bridge loan of $5 million will be extended by the government to enable the payment of salaries.

United St. Maarten party MP Frans Richardson expressed his disappointment about the absence of the airport’s shareholder representative, Minister of Tourism and Economic Affairs Stuart Johnson. “Instead of being here he is entertaining himself on a cruise ship.”

Richardson said he did not understand the numbers: the need for $64 million for the reconstruction, a total loan of $100 million, a $58 million insurance pay out that is held by the airport’s bond holders and a remaining loan to bond holders of $50 million. “How is this going to reconstruct the airport?”

Richardson also criticized the decision to agree to the loan conditions. “Condition after condition after condition; we have people in the executive branch who have no idea about negotiating. In my opinion $100 million is insufficient.”

USp-faction leader Rolando Brison observed that the country “has always been fooled into temporary measures that have become permanent. These conditions are not going to stop with the airport, because GEBE and the harbor are also in financial need.”

National Alliance faction leader Silveria Jacobs asked about the airport’s condition before Hurricane Irma. “Are there any indications that technical assistance was already needed before the hurricane?”She asked for specifics regarding the loan conditions and wondered why they were necessary in the first place. Jacobs furthermore noted that the bond holders have asked for a guarantee letter from the government before it will release the $58 million it received from NAGICO to the airport.

“Does the Council of Ministers deem the board and the management of the airport unfit to lead the reconstruction? We have been backed into the proverbial corner with these conditions.”

With Jacobs, NA-MP Jurendy Doran asked whether it is correct that the government offered the positions on the board and in the airport’s management. “And why did the government not give a letter of guarantee to the bond holders? I don’t blame the Dutch for these conditions, I blame our government for accepting them without negotiating.”

NA-MP Christophe Emmanuel described PM Romeo-Marlin as a “puppet on a string” and called her a liar by saying: “You start looking more and more like Pinocchio. Whose strings are you on: those of (State Secretary of Kingdom Affairs) Knops or those of (UD-MP Theo) Heyliger? Heyliger said in April 2018 in the newspaper: give them positions on the board – not you.”

Emmanuel went on to say that the late founder of the Democratic Party, Claude Wathey “would never have accepted these conditions. They built the airport for $86 million without a single condition.”

The MP wondered whether Minister Johnson was on some sort of cruise instead of being in parliament. “What sort of cruise? A gay cruise? At this crucial moment he should have been in parliament.”

Citing Johnson’s repeated excuses for not being able to come to parliament, Emmanuel announced a motion of no confidence against the minister. This motion will be tabled during the second round of the meeting at a later date.

Draft motion No Confidence Motion MinTEATT Stuart Johnson

United Democrats-MP Theo Heyliger noted that formally there is no agreement about the loan yet because it is up to the airport, not the government, to say yes or no to the conditions. He wondered whether the government needs approval from the Cft for extending a loan to the airport and whether this decision requires a budget amendment.

“There is no sense of direction from this government: this is the plan, this is how we go forward,” NA-stalwart William Marlin said. “We need clarity on the government’s position.”

Marlin agreed with MP Heyliger that not the government but the airport has to agree to the loan conditions. “So technically, there still is no agreement.”

Prime Minister Romeo-Marlin will respond to all questions at a later date. Chairlady of parliament MP Sarah Wescot-Williams adjourned the meeting around 5 p.m. to a later date. “We will continue as soon as possible,” she promised.

Presentation Parliament on Airport Financing 2019012102