May 14, 2020 PHILIPSBURG—Faction Leader of the United People (UP) party Member of Parliament (MP) GrishaHeyliger-Marten on Tuesday said she was unimpressed with answers given to Parliament by airport CEO Brian Mingo regarding Princess Juliana International Airport's financial situation, its reconstruction post-Irma, and the resignation of the Airport CFO.
She said Mingo’s answers to various questions posed by MPs in the Parliament meeting held this past Tuesday, showed a lack of interest and at times no sense of urgency when it came to the agenda point up for discussion. “We are discussing St. Maarten’s premier port of entry and the CEO came over as completely unprepared to Parliament,” Heyliger-Marten said.
The MP said that Mingo’s dismissive tone of serious concerns expressed by MP’s along with lack of progress at the airport since he took office almost two years ago, raises questions of his competence to manage on this level. “To attend a Parliament meeting as unprepared as he was, unfortunately, is an indication that the CEO might not take his role of being accountable to the people seriously. At some point, you have to put on your big boy pants and level-up. These are crucial times for our country,” Heyliger-Marten said.
The MP stressed to Mingo that he, and by extension the airport management, must realize that it has to give an account to Parliament and the People of St. Maarten for what is happening there, adding that both businesses and residents who depend on the Airport as the gateway for the Tourism Economy, "must feel confident in the management and direction of the Airport."
In this context, Heyliger-Marten pointed out that her faction has many areas of concern and priority that she will expect to get clear answers on in the next Parliament meeting on this subject. First and foremost she said, is when the actual work to restore PJIA to its award-winning glory will start.
"If the Airport does not stop dragging its feet on the reconstruction, the Management and Board will be held accountable for their failure to deliver for the people of St. Maarten. PJIA must commence and complete reconstruction post-haste to give the island a fighting chance of economic recovery in the aftermath of the devastation from COVID-19. It’s always a different date with different and unclear reasons. We must have clarity about the start of reconstruction,” she said.
Additionally, the MP stressed, the reconstruction of the airport must include local contractors, taking a page from her husband’s unwritten policy of ensuring that local contractors, big, medium and especially small, are active participants in the construction of their country.
“It is also clear to me that the Airport does not believe in the ability of St. Maarten people to deliver quality work and seems to believe that qualified workers must come from Holland,” she said, explaining that the Airport's presentation to Parliament included information on Contractors selected from The Netherlands to do work locally.
“So will St. Maarten contractors have to audition for the Netherlands Contractors to see if maybe they would get a small job,” she asked? Shouldn’t their involvement in their company be a pre-requisite? This frustrates me as a local politician to see that a local Government-Owned Company is bypassing local contractors to hire elsewhere," said Heyliger-Marten. “I want to make it absolutely clear, the airport must understand that the local contractors have to be put to work on rebuilding the airport."
Another area needing urgent attention, according to Heyliger-Marten is the Airport's Fuel Farm. While the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) and the local Aviation Authority have declared the present fuel farm a "safety hazard" Heyliger-Marten says she finds it "utterly disturbing" that the Airport does not see its replacement as a priority.
"A solution for this fuel farm has been in place since 2014 following the 2013 Resolution of the Supervisory Board of Directors for PJIAE/CoA/mac/14-25. Her concern is that St. Maarten has suffered significant losses in three years caused by hurricanes, and the Coronavirus and we should not create more problems,” she said.
"Do we want to wait until something disastrous happens with the fuel farm at the Airport? Because if that happens not only will we risk the airport being labeled as unsafe but also there is serious potential for harming people who work there. The airport keeps spending money by the millions with little to show for it, the Fuel Farm upgrade has no cost to the Airport. "If they are so sure that there is nothing wrong with the fuel farm and it's not urgent, then let the airport publish the ICAO report."
US Pre-Clearance according to MP Heyliger-Marten is also a crucial step to take in the overall reconstruction of the airport. She said this is so the island can offer attractive options to international carriers as competition for visitor arrival in the region would be significant.US Pre-Clearance is the most viable long term competitive advantage St. Maarten can have, particularly over neighboring islands who continue to expand their plans for airlift.
In her press release, Heyliger-Marten reiterated sentiments expressed a day before in Parliament saying she intends to keep a watchful eye on its progress. “I want the Airport to know that I will be keeping a watchful eye on the Board and Management to see that they do not stagnate projects. The priority for the Airport must be full reconstruction with our people involved, rebuilding the Fuel Farm and US Pre-Clearance along with carefully thought out cost-cutting measures in keeping with the current economic trends.”