SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) - A media report calling for an independent forensic audit to be conducted at the Princess Juliana International Airport based on financial conclusions drawn by the Curacao based firm Ernst & Young, if true not only re-affirmed what many have said for years, but it also should be the proverbial nail in the coffin of current CEO Brian Mingo.
Independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel is of the opinion that the confidential report, commissioned by PJIA and reportedly submitted in 2019 to Mingo, does not absolve Mingo of anything, even if it focuses on years prior to his tenure. In fact, he stressed, it further condemns him. The report was leaked recently to at least one online media outlet and circulated on social media over the weekend. “The people of St. Maarten and the employees of the airport can no longer tolerate him in that position and no report will save him,” the MP said.
“His neck is on the chopping block so this report surfaces in an attempt to deflect from his poor management. If accurate, all it shows is that he willfully hid vital information and sank the airport even further into debt with shady operational and financial decisions, rewarding consultants with exorbitant salaries and perks and putting PJIA within reach of total control of Schiphol Airport. All of this while knowing, based on the report he had, that the airport was already in a precarious position,” Emmanuel said
He said revelations in the financial baseline report are not a total shock to anyone since the airport has been a den of secrets for years. “To know something isn’t quite right and do nothing to correct the situation and in fact make it worse, makes you look even worse and your actions even more inexcusable. Mingo has already shown utter disrespect to the Parliament of St. Maarten by telling Parliament he has no time to meet with us. For me at least that was the final insult for his indictment and the Holding Board of PJIA now has to finish what it set out to do with Mingo since last year,” the MP said.
He stressed that the Holding Board also must rid the airport of its current Supervisory Board who has allowed and empowered Mingo to run PJIA into the ground and near complete bankruptcy. “We all know that the board is the power behind Mingo and they are just as guilty. They have to be dismissed at the same time,” the MP said.
He also questioned how the Supervisory Board could have an alleged disbarred attorney as a member and if this isn’t against airport and corporate screening directives. The MP wants the Holding Board to determine if the legal representative on the Supervisory Board was actually disbarred a few years ago and then re-admitted somehow due to the law firm she was associated with. “We are told that this person basically runs the airport and has influence over the CEO. If there are legal issues in their background, this should be known,” the MP said.
MP Emmanuel also re-iterated that the Government of St. Maarten and the Princess Juliana Airport Operating Company (PJIAH) must avoid renewing the cooperation agreement with Schiphol and the Netherlands without carefully examining the financial detriments of the agreement to PJIA itself. He said based on factual financial figures, the cooperation agreement to date has only added to the financial woes of PJIA due to increased financial pressure it places on PJIAE at a time of crisis and low revenue.
This increased financial pressure, he explained, is derived from high consultant fees and fees that PJIA has to pay to Schiphol Airport for persons that Schiphol appointed to PJIA. He pointed out that consultant fees amount to more than Naf 10 million, the highest they have ever been in the history of PJIA. In fact, the MP said, consultant fees jumped from approximately Naf 4.5 million in 2017, to approximately Naf 7 million in 2018 then to the current amounts of over Naf 10 million in 2019 and 2020.
MP Emmanuel said government and the airport Holding Board must take control and scale down the project which is already over budget by some US $25 million. Even more worrisome, he said, at the rate of spending at PJIA with “ridiculously high consultant fees and poor financial and overall management”, the airport could be out of money by the end of this year if not before.
The MP suggest scaling the project back to focus on the necessities of the terminal, establish the first level/phase of US pre-clearance, take care of employees, replace the CEO, CFO, and Supervisory board and put all other related projects at PJIA on hold.
“The agreement with Schiphol only served to benefit Mingo, Schiphol and Schiphol appointees. The airport has not benefitted in any significant way from this terrible agreement. The government and the Holding Board cannot re-sign such an agreement under the same one sided terms as the first,” MP Emmanuel said.
“So we can talk all day about this report from Ernst & Young, but the fact remains we have a problem now and the current CEO and board doesn’t have a clue about how to guide PJIA into the future. The Holding Board has to show initiative and perhaps mandate SOAB to conduct an audit based on the recommendations of the report. But getting distracted from the overall and dramatic failures of this CEO and this board, will not be allowed or tolerated,” he concluded.