St. Maarten Prime Minister pledges to meet Winair workers laterPOSTED: 07/28/11 12:37 PM
“I want to have something concrete to discuss”
St. Maarten – Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams has vowed to meet employees of Windward Islands Airways International N.V. (Winair) once she has a “solution in sight” for the “vulnerable position” that the airline is in. She made the commitment on Wednesday during the Council of Minister’s press briefing.
The prime minister, who is the Shareholder Representative for St. Maarten, said that while she is not against meeting with any group she did not want to have a meeting for meeting’s sake where she heard the challenges of the employees and then told them “to go home while I think of some solution.”
“I took note of their words in wanting this meeting and they want to be able to gauge if the prime minister is sufficiently informed or sensitive. How could I not be? I think I must be more concerned than anyone group with their own responsibility, but as government with responsibility for all of it, I cannot, but be more concerned than anyone group. I want to have something concrete to discuss in terms of how we’re going to get out of what we’re in,” Wescot-Williams said.
The prime minister does not believe that she will have that concrete solution until the board and management deliver the “survival plan” that she’s requested. No deadline was given for the submission of the report when the board was installed on Monday. The plan, as requested, should deliver an overview of the current financial position and what operations are beneficial to the company and country St. Maarten in the long run.
Wescot-Williams is also clear that a contribution from government is not likely in the near future. Government has chosen the approach of encouraging the company to take as many measures as possible to reduce expenses and/or extend current debts.
“I saw the disappointment from the unions that government did not have Winair on its budget. That is unrealistic to even think that could just happen like that. There is nowhere on government’s budget that government has contributions to a government owned company. To the contrary government usually looks at government owned companies contributing to government. That does not mean that it is totally excluded that there would have ever been any financial assistance to Winair, but it is not just a given that will be the case and how it will take place,” the prime minister said.
Attempts to find a strategic partner, including amongst other regional airlines, has not been ruled out completely but the prime minister believes the financial situation at the airline must be clear before such a move is made. Though things are not clear Wescot-Williams did say the airline was in dire straits and a vulnerable position.
“The challenge until now has been what position was or is Winair in to go out to say we’re going to partner with you and these are our conditions vs what are yours. We’ve been working diligently to get that picture clear because on the other hand it is easy too for Winair, in this vulnerable position that it’s in, without having a grip on what is the financial position for others to say “Well Winair, since you’re down and out we might as well say we want to take you over for a guilder,” Wescot-Williams said.
The prime minister’s comments come two days after she installed the new board at an extraordinary shareholders meeting on Monday. She used that occasion to commend them for taking on the responsibility.
“I think it’s just good that we get persons on the board with understanding of the matter at hand – aviation/finances/government vis a vis government owned companies so the government of St. Maarten can look forward to receiving from management and board some clear options with respect to how further and how forward with Winair,” Wescot-Williams said on Wednesday.