Published On: Tue, May 11th, 2021

PFP: Schiphol Group Letter Worrying, But Not Shocking

PHILIPSBURG – PFP members of Parliament Melissa Gumbs and Raeyhon Peterson expressed concern, but not surprise, at the May 6th letter sent by Schiphol Group to the Government of St. Maarten. In the letter, Schiphol Group makes it clear that until corporate governance discrepancies at the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) are addressed, there is a very real chance that they will withdraw from their supporting role in the project as per 15 July 2021.

The faction had shared concerns in previous Parliament meetings held over the status of PJIA’s reconstruction; the facility was damaged during the passing of Hurricane Irma in 2017. Financing for the reconstruction project was finalized in January 2020, when Finance Minister Irion traveled with then-CEO Brian Mingo to sign off on the Trust Fund/European Investment Bank agreement. The delays facing the airport project have been the subject of much discussion on the floor of Parliament. In a previous Central Committee meeting of Parliament with the Minister of TEATT and airport management, Gumbs had questioned if the World Bank had been involved in any area of corporate governance at PJIA, and whether good corporate governance had been considered part of the conditions for the airport project.

Related article: Schiphol threatens to terminate airport cooperation agreement

“The response from the Minister of TEATT was essentially yes, to both questions,” Gumbs stated. “The World Bank had done an assessment in 2018 that gave recommendations for improving corporate governance at PJIA. This is no surprise; engaging with international agencies on any level will mean there are requirements for good corporate governance and an error in that can result in support being withheld or worse, fines and penalties.”

The faction was not surprised to read and hear the usual rhetoric be thrown around in the public arena after the release of this letter and urged the Prime Minister to recognize that the Government has the most important role to play when it comes to how St. Maarten is handled and perceived outside of its 16 square miles. The faction said:

“We’ve faced the same ridicule and rhetoric when questioning the improvement of corporate governance at government-owned and related companies and assets, because that’s the name of the playground game: if it doesn’t mesh with the agenda, tear it down with insults. But here we see the facts, clearly reflected back at us: clear, transparent and good corporate governance matters and no Government, present or otherwise, has done anything to improve on this area of doing business as a country.”

PFP was also concerned about the continuing fallout of the current situation at PJIA, which they said would ultimately have just one victim: the people of St. Maarten. For the faction, it is blatant that the agenda at play is to do everything to tear down the financing agreement for PJIA, in an attempt to bring alternative financing to the table. For example, an outstanding financing offer that was discussed on the floor of Parliament required the country to commit 100% of the commercial revenues of the airport towards a higher-interest loan than is currently in place with the EIB and Trust Fund, and those are terms that St. Maarten cannot and should not commit to.

“From the witch hunt against the former CEO to the board membership shake up that is basically a public secret,” the faction stated, “we are witnessing firsthand what the fallout can be if we allow decisions to be made like we’re living in a lawless La La Land. Government has to decide if it’s going to continue to nod along with those who are drooling for a total collapse of this situation, or if it’s going to stand firm and actually hold people accountable for these failures in governance.”