Government Sint Maarten acquires US $15M bridge loan for airport

PHILIPSBURG--Government has acquired a US $15 million bridge loan for Princess Juliana International Airport. This vitally-needed cash injection will aid in paying airport workers’ salaries and servicing other financial obligations in the coming months.
 
  The urgent financial assistance requested from government by the airport is linked with the $100 million the Council of Ministers has secured for the post-Hurricane Irma airport reconstruction. Those funds will come in the form of a $50 million grant via the Dutch government-financed, World Bank-administrated recovery trust fund and a loan of the same amount from the European Investment Bank (EIB).
 
  Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin and Finance Minister Perry Geerlings recently negotiated the bridge loan with the Netherlands during a working visit to The Hague.
 
  Following the urgent Parliament meeting of today, Monday, about government’s support for the grant/loan combination, Geerlings and Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Stuart Johnson will formalise the bridge loan with the Dutch government.
 
  In the interim, to ensure the airport receives the first tranche of $5 million as soon as possible, government has already prepared an emergency loan agreement between itself and the airport. This amount is critical for the airport to cover its January payroll and meet obligations to bond-holders. These funds will be reimbursed to government once $100 million grant/loan is received from the trust fund-EIB combo.  
 
  In the absence of any alternative financing, the airport needed immediate financial assistance to ensure continuation of its operations. “Without that assistance, the airport would not able to pay salaries at the end of this month, jobs would be lost and employees could no longer take care of families,” Romeo-Marlin said of the need for the bridge loan.
 
  Thanking Dutch State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops and others involved in getting the bridge loan, she said in a press statement Sunday night, “I’m grateful that all parties recognised the urgency of the situation and took the necessary action to protect the interests of the people and businesses of St. Maarten, as we all are aware that the airport is the gateway to St. Maarten’s economy.”
 
  The airport holding and operating companies informed government on Thursday of their acceptance of financial assistance as proposed in the grant/loan combo under the conditions set by the Dutch government.
 
  The Dutch government, as trust fund donor, has made approval of the grant/loan financing by the trust fund steering committee conditional on the completion of an integrity check of the airport, a corporate governance risk assessment and follow-up on attracting international expertise to fill a temporary position each in the airport supervisory board and its board of directors for a maximum of two years.
 
  According to the press statement issued by the prime minister’s cabinet, Knops has confirmed that the Dutch government “does not want to take over the airport and that the new positions are only required to strengthen the capacity of the airport throughout the reconstruction process.”
 
  Government was only willing to accept the taking up of the position on the airport board of directors by the Dutch government if the posting is “temporary” and “to support the existing management with the reconstruction,” and only if the final candidates were mutually agreed on by the two governments. Those conditions were accepted by the Netherlands.
 
  Together with Royal Schiphol Group and the airport, government will now look for a candidate for the board of directors with experience in civil aviation and the (re)building of airports. The potential candidate does not have to be a Dutch national or someone working for Schiphol Airport.
 
  Government “has full confidence in the existing management, who will remain fully responsible for the airport’s day-to-day operations. The temporary position as member of the board of directors could assist PJIAE [the airport operating company – Ed.] in getting the terminal fully up and running again in the fastest possible timeframe,” the prime minister said.
 
  Government signalled its support for the grant/loan combo on January 8 “after learning that a more favourable deal was hard to come by and on receiving information from the airport that no other financing would become available through Piper Jaffray or other sources any time soon,” said the prime minister.
 
The Daily Herald

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