SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - My first order of business after being sworn in as a Member of Parliament was to send a letter, dated November 25th 2019, to the Chairman of Parliament, requesting him to reconvene the meeting concerning the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) that was adjourned on November 4, 2019. Unfortunately, this meeting was adjourned due to the fact that members of the new coalition of 9 progressively walked out of the meeting prior to the handling of the motion submitted by former SMCP faction leader, MP Claude Peterson.
The motion, submitted by Peterson, was to satisfy the bondholders, who had concluded that the September 25th motion, passed by Parliament, prohibited the Caretaker Government to sign agreements with third parties. Peterson’s motion was to give the bondholders a level of comfort by letting them know that the signed agreements by the Caretaker Ministers would be honored and complied with by the incoming Interim Government and by Government thereafter.
In addition, since October 9th, the then Formateur, MP Jacobs, was briefed by Mr. Claret Connor of the National Recovery Program Bureau (NRPB) and by the Caretaker Minister of Finance on the situation with the bondholders and their desire to have a clear declaration from Parliament. The Formateur was also briefed on the urgency of the dire financial position of the PJIA. Had the new coalition in Parliament taken PJIA seriously at that time, the motion would have been passed a month ago and the airport and Sint Maarten would not be in the dilemma that they are in today.
I was elated when I received the convocation from the Secretary General of Parliament, dated November 28, 2019 which stated that the Public meeting regarding the state of affairs of PJIA “which was adjourned on Monday, November 4, 2019, will be reconvened on Monday, December 2, 2019 at 11.00 hrs.” To my surprise, one day, later November 29, 2019, MPs received another convocation stating that the meeting “will be postponed until further notice”. And then, a few hours later MPs received yet another convocation stating that an urgent Public meeting will be held on Monday, December 2, 2019 at 10.00 to discuss the “status of the financing for the reconstruction” of the airport.
Having been on the other side of the table, namely in Government, I know that the situation surrounding PJIA has not changed. The World Bank, the European Investment Bank and the especially the bondholders have not changed their position as far as the conditions related to the financing of PJIA is concerned. This became very clear to me in the informative session that the NRPB had with Members of Parliament last Friday. So if nothing has changed, why not continue the public meeting that was so close to resolving the problem. All that was needed at that time was to pass the motion that was already on the floor of Parliament, which would have enabled the bondholders to release the $5 million needed by the PJIA to meet its obligations towards its employees and creditors in the next couple of months and we would have been much further than we are today.
But instead, Parliament is starting a whole new meeting that is going to take up additional time before we can get to the approval of a motion that would satisfy the bondholders. Whether it is the motion of former MP Peterson or a new motion but a motion it will be, because the bondholders have not changed their position and they still require what they call a “declaratory motion” from our Parliament.
In light of the press release which the National Alliance issued following the November 4th Public meeting, it will be very interesting to see how members of the current coalition in Parliament will address the issue of the motion to satisfy the bondholders. In that press release the NA wrote that the “majority of the Members of Parliament deemed this motion to be redundant as authorization for this was already granted in the country’s Budget 2019, which was passed by Parliament merely 4 months ago”.
I expect that the Members of Parliament who categorically rejected the Peterson motion before it even came to a vote and who stressed that the Caretaker Government did not need any further authorization because Parliament had already approved the 2019 Budget. In addition, they stated that Governor had already signed off on the related National Decrees. So what more did the Caretaker Government want? According to the aforementioned press release “it is redundant that a motion be presented on this matter”.
During the meeting of November 4th, in my capacity as Prime Minister, I appealed to Members of Parliament to really reconsider their stance on the issue and to still consider passing the motion because of the fact that the bondholders were not familiar with our constitutional and legal systems and if Parliament could go the extra mile to set the minds of the bondholders at ease for the sake of the rehabilitation of the airport, then Parliament should do so. My plea also fell on deaf ears. But no, Parliament at that time took the hard stand and MPs progressively walked out of the meeting to avoid voting on the motion submitted by former MP Peterson.
Other than the change of a Caretaker Government to an Interim Government, the real circumstances surrounding the financing of the airport have not changed. All of the other stakeholders such as the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, the Bondholders, the Kingdom Government remained the same and they have not altered their conditions with respect to the financing of PJIA.
Will the current coalition in Parliament still maintain its hard position that a motion is redundant? Or will they finally yield to the Bondholders and still pass a declaratory motion? If they yield to the request of the bondholders, my question is why couldn’t they have done this a month ago? We would have been much further with the financing of the airport. Can’t we for once put politics aside and give serious consideration to the concerns of the people and to the progress of our country? It should not be about which party or which government gets the credit. Ultimately it should be the people who would get the credit for their resilience to build back stronger, better and quickly.
The SMCP faction is ready to approve the motion presented by Former MP Peterson or support a motion brought by any other Member of Parliament as long as it means the 1400 persons working directly or indirectly for the airport can get paid on time for December ahead of the holidays.