Meeting about Zebec-deal continues: Opposition questions deal, coalition praises harborPOSTED: 09/24/15 1:08 PM
St. Maarten – Parliament will have to wait until this afternoon for answers to the questions it posed yesterday in a public meeting about the settlement between the Harbor Group of Companies and real estate developer Zebec over the failed Harbor Village project.
As Today reported on Monday, September 14, social insurance agency SZV borrowed the harbor $10 million on a short 3-month loan to settle the dispute with Zebec.
Yesterday’s meeting did not bring anything new to light. The opposition parties National Alliance and Democratic Party peppered the government – represented by vice Prime Minister Dennis Richardson – and harbor CEO Mark Mingo with questions, while coalition parties had nothing but good things to say.
Before anything of substance came to the floor, MPs bickered over the allotted speaking time. The opposition requested 30 minutes in the first round and 20 minutes in the second round, but that proposal was voted down by the coalition. Speaking time was limited to 20 minutes in the first round and 10 minutes in the second round. Several MPs in the opposition benches muttered that 20 minutes was not enough, while independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo made it a point to state that it was more than sufficient, if only MPs stuck to the subject matter.
National Alliance MP Christophe Emmanuel said there had been a deal whereby
Tropical Shipping ended up in the hands of Intermar while its previous owner Zebec ended up with 13 to 15,000 square meters of land. “The people have been robbed of that land because of greed,” Emmanuel said. He furthermore wondered why “SZV got involved with the court battle between the harbor and Zebec.”
As an aside, Emmanuel wondered why Francis Carty’s radio column ‘Good morning Mr. Governor’ had remained silent on the subject.
Democratic Party MP Sarah Wescot-Williams said that the Harbor Village project had at the time been presented as a showpiece during the Ipko in January, 2012. “There were a lot of concerns about that project but the minister at the time defended it. According to him, cruise passengers felt the French heritage on the French side but they did not feel the Dutch heritage on the Dutch side of the island.”
Wescot-Williams referred to the history of the conflict between the harbor and Zebec that went public with a full page add in which the developer announced a $100 million lawsuit. “The harbor said it was without merit and that in turn it would seek damages from Zebec. And now they have paid out the developer.”
While SZV “came to the rescue of the harbor,” Wescot-Williams said, the government kept saying that there is no money for all kinds of infrastructural projects like the ring road. To get out of its financial funk, the government should follow the advice of the Cft and privatize government-owned companies, Wescot-Williams said.
“The lack of transparency is constantly getting us into hot water,” National Alliance MP Silveria Jacobs said. “Assumptions, rumors and negative images will continue until government-owned companies come clean.”
Jacobs wants confirmation that SZV granted a loan to the harbor, for which amount and against which interest rate. She also wants to know if other court cases are pending.
National Alliance leader William Marlin is interested in the contract between Zebec and the harbor. He also asked why and when the harbor canceled the agreement and whether there is any truth to reports that a group of Indian businessmen has taken over the project.
Independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo referred to the report in Today about the $10 million loan SZV granted to the harbor. “I look at this as creative financing,” she said, adding that the university needs money and that there is also money needed to finish the government administration building. “SZV has that money. If they can pay for the harbor, than they can also pay for the expansion of the hospital,” she said.
“Court cases have an unpredictable outcome,” independent MP Cornelius de Weever remarked. “How much money have we saved with this settlement? When it comes to settlements, sometimes we have to be wise.”
He also asked what SZV’s requirements for investments are.
UP-MP Theo Heyliger put the project into perspective, saying that the first talks about a development with the cruise lines started six or seven years ago. “At that time a lot of the cruise business went to the French side – to Orient Bay and to Marigot. Royal Caribbean started to develop plans for French Quarter at the port, until the harbor came with its own plans. That included a Dutch windmill, a church for marriages at the port, and a Dutch bridge. That was a plan for 3,000 square meters.”
Later there were issues between the developer, the harbor and the cruise lines about the amount of square meters to develop. “I did not know about any agreement with the cruise lines about this,” Heyliger said.
He pointed out that a court case between the harbor and Zebec could have dragged on for years. “You have legal fees and consultant fees and then you could still lose the case and incur damages. This way you limit the damages and you are able to move on.”
UP faction leader Franklin Meyers asked whether the court case could have dragged on for as long as twenty years. He also pointed fingers at DP-MP Wescot-Williams: “The Democratic Party was in government from 2010 to 2014 and it had access to all information. Did they not ask for it? Did they not receive it?”
Several members of the coalition praised harbor CEO Mark Mingo for the completion of the Walter Plantz Square and congratulated him with the festive opening of the new facility.