St. Maarten Government extremely interested in acquiring UTS and Development Bank

POSTED: 07/21/11 11:31 AM

St. Maarten – Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams and Vice Prime Minister Theodore Heyliger have announced the government wants to take over the St. Maarten based operations of United Telecommunications Services (UTS) and the Development Bank of the Netherlands Antilles (OBNA). The two made the revelation on Wednesday morning at the Council of Ministers press briefing.

The idea of acquiring the operations is part of ongoing discussions about what to do with the Government of St. Maarten’s share of companies and entities that were owned by the now defunct Government of the Netherlands Antilles. The government wants to come to a cash value for the shares it holds before it moves forward and plans to commission a study soon. An attempt was made several months ago for the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten to conduct the review of especially UTS and the Obna, but it did not happen. The government now wants to do a formal study of all 15 entities that Curacao, St. Maarten and Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba share and even before that study is started Wescot-Williams and Heyliger have confirmed heavy interest in acquiring the operation here.

The prime minister said, “We are looking at our shares in UTS and where we want to go with those. We believe that UTS should be given priority because of some of the factors mentioned, but we’re also doing that overall for our shares in different companies and because of that Minister Duncan is making an issue about getting two members on the board.”

Heyliger believes it is necessary to acquire the St. Maarten branch of UTS so that decisions made in Curacao do not affect St. Maarten. One such decision is the recent approval by the board for UTS to invest five million dollars in venture capital in the setup of a data center that is being done in a public/private sector partnership initiated by Curacao Technology Exchange (Ctex). The company has also donated high speed internet and video conferencing facilities all to schools in Curacao. That is an investment that Heyliger wants to see happen here as well, next to upgrades in the network.

The vice prime minister’s concern is exacerbated by the fact that St. Maarten does not have any representation on the company’s Supervisory Board of Directors even though the country is a shareholder.

“I believe it behooves St. Maarten that instead of UTS looking at buying Telem, I believe it is time now that St. Maarten actually acquires the assets of UTS on St. Maarten so that we will be able to control our own destiny and not leave it in the hands of politicians in Curacao. Unlike St. Maarten, Curacao’s politicians are able to sit and actually direct supervisory boards and directors of companies, whereas St. Maarten as a very, very arms length approach, nearly like being in Antarctica and  then being in another way not being allowed to do a lot of things that the public cries out for us to do,” Heyliger said.

Heyliger’s interest in dissolving the relationship with Curacao extends past UTS.

“I think we have at least 15 entities that we still share with Curacao and I think it is time now that we finalize that process as well and whether we take our assets or we get our assets and or sell off our shares to Curacao so that we can move on with our lives as well, so that we don’t get involved in the political sphere of Curacao,” Heyliger said.

“When you look at the baseball that goes on in the political parties in Curacao it has to have St. Maarten worried, because again how do you deal with a politician there who may decide that UTS should not invest in St. Maarten anymore. Then where does that leave the consumer on St. Maarten and the potential client on St. Maarten,” the vice prime minister added.

Board membership

Justice Minister Roland Duncan, who is St. Maarten’s shareholder representative for UTS, is aware of the interest and concern by his cabinet colleagues and has been pressing for Curacao to allow the island to appoint its two board members. All communication so far from Curacao is that they have no way of removing any of the seven members they have placed on the board so that St. Maarten can place its two representatives.

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