PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Independent Member of Parliament Christophe Emmanuel on Sunday challenged the government of St. Maarten and the board of the Princess Juliana International Airport operating company (PJIAE) to substantiate its claims which have led to yet another delay in construction work at the country’s premier port of entry. “And not verbally, produce the reports, engineer finding and visual proof. There is no transparency and this foolishness has to stop,” Emmanuel said.
The MP said it is reprehensible that the government and the board of PJIAE “continue to take the people of St. Maarten for fools with ridiculous, empty statements every time they have to come up for an excuse for why the airport still isn’t reconstructed.” He was referring to PJIAE’s press release on Sunday which indicated that another delay in the reconstruction will have to be endured due to the peeling of fire-retardant paint on the interior steel structure.
According to main contractor Ballast Nedam, the repainting of the structure will delay the completion of the departure hall which will now be ready before the start of the 2023 – 2024 season. The new arrival and ticket hall will follow in Q2 2024. “This means it will take an astonishing 7 years before we are near completion of the reconstruction of PJIA, a project which is almost double in cost of the original full construction. These people must really think that the people of St. Maarten are the dumbest set of people on the face of the planet,” Emmanuel said.
He continued: “We cannot accept this latest excuse without some sort of substantiation. Keep in mind, the Council of Ministers have already written to the board of PJIAE questioning the delays and why the shareholder was not informed. Refinancing took place without proper explanations to the public as to why PJIA needed millions more. Employees have been moved back into tents, the airport is a disaster and here we go again with the lame excuses.
“It is five years after Irma and Ballast Nedam have convinced PJIAE and apparently the government that every little change requires new injections of millions of dollars. Is it only NOW that they realize the paint was peeling? So it begs the questions, when exactly did Ballast Nedam realize the paint was peeling? Where are the reports on such including safety reports? What is the extra cost of this latest delay? How long exactly will repainting take and when will that start? Where are the pictures of the paint peeling? Produce the building code that refers to peeling paint being a safety hazard,” Emmanuel said.
Additionally, the MP pointed out, Ballast Nedam said painting and sourcing an additional workforce will take 7 months. “Seven months to find painters and paint. This is what we are being told. With all of the workmen we have on this island, Ballast Nedam is telling us that it will take seven months. People of St. Maarten, the airport’s re-construction are a criminal racket. It is an ongoing blatant racket for Ballast Nedam to milk the airport, the trust fund and others of available money, “Emmanuel said.
“Excuse after excuse without any substantiation and now the same government that was drinking champagne at the ground breaking and refinancing apparently cannot get answers or holding them back. Understand that the project’s main works were scheduled to be completed by the second quarter of 2023 with sections of the terminal building coming online from as early as December 2022. We are a few days away from December people of St. Maarten, what do you see? What can you see five years after Hurricane Irma?
“Now they are telling you that the airport will be near completion two years from now. St. Maarten is being bamboozled by a Dutch conglomerate that is taking seven years to reconstruct a small airport with an existing footprint. Not even from scratch. I want to see solid substantiation from the government of St. Maarten about these latest claims from PJIAE and Ballast Nedam. Failure to do so and uphold transparency would mean that the government is an accomplice in this ongoing racket,” the MP concluded.