~ Calls on Lawrence to explain publicly ~
PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Independent MP Christophe Emmanuel on Wednesday said that the government of St. Maarten, in Particular Minister of TEATT Roger Lawrence, owes the public an explanation on why so much of their money is being wasted at the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) with ever increasing costs for a facility that only had to be repaired, not re-built. The MP pointed out that he had asked about overrun of costs at the airport and its slow progress on numerous occasions, only to be told by government, Lawrence included, that there were no overrun of costs. “Certain people are getting rich at the airport off of the backs of the people of St. Maarten,” Emmanuel said.
“Today, almost five months after the Council of Ministers and airport management drank champagne to toast “the start of the project” at a ground breaking ceremony meant only to distract, the airport’s CEO and NRPB Director comes out and casually announces that the project now costs 150 million dollars, 20 million more,” The MP said, “almost five years after the facility was damaged by hurricane Irma with employees who are fighting for what’s due to them”
“For more than a year I have questioned why the airport, with a standing building and footprint, costs about 40 million more to repair than it was to build. Now, that price has ballooned to about 60 million more than original construction costs and nobody from the government feel the need or obligation to explain to the public why that is. In all likelihood the price will continue to increase. But I was called a fear-monger,” the MP added.
MP Emmanuel called on Lawrence to immediately provide truthful information to the public before Parliament is forced to do so and “loop him in with all of the deceit that’s being perpetuated on the people of St. Maarten by the Prime Minister of St. Maarten.”
He stressed that simply stating that preparation works, design works, overhead insurance, third party support etc costs more without explanation is corrupt to its core. “What is meant by third party support? Which preparation and design work is being referred to and how does this differ from the same that was done prior? Only now over-head insurance is being factored into the project? What was the originally budgeted amount for contingency and what is it now?” the MP asked.
He continued: “There are a million questions that must be answered by the Minister of TEATT who have gotten more than one opportunity to tell us the truth. The Minister toured the airport on October 15 and I’m sure received a briefing. The Minister recently met with the airport holding board and CEO and I’m sure received a briefing. Was he told about these extra costs after saying there were no costs overrun?”
The NRPB, the airport CEO and the Dutch, the MP said, is “raking St. Maarten over the coals” with the airport project with a few people getting rich in the process. He said a simple deduction of exorbitant consultant fees, adjusting for the overspending of the CEO and the US $250,000 non-usage fee in the contract with Schiphol International airport, would reveal a saving of over 30 million at PJIA. He said this is all being supported by a government and now a new Minister who apparently doesn’t understand accountability to the people of St. Maarten.
“I want answers. The Minister of TEATT also announced boldly that he called a meeting with the airport holding board to get answers that I presented during the budget debate. I know the meeting was held and now, weeks later, I need the Minister to brief the public on the outcome of his meeting. I also want the Minister to brief the public on the findings and recommendations that was tabled to the Supervisory Board of the airport to curtail the CEO’s spending of airport money. I was more than patient in not receiving answers. Now, I want my answers in public,” the MP said.
The MP said if you follow the PR campaign of the PJIA CEO, supported by the government, one will recall several “starts of the project” only to be followed by drips of news pieces that indicate that nothing is happening at PJIA. “Right on cue, the airport will probably kick off another round of public relations efforts on radio and other media to continue to fool the people,” the MP said.