POINTE BLANCHE--St. Maarten Harbour Group of Companies had some US $202,252,000 in debts as of December 2014. This is the total of the figures given to Parliament by Tourism and Economic Affairs Minister Claret Connor on Friday in response to questions from Members of Parliament posed in the first round of debate on the draft 2015 budget.
The harbour has a bond loan from the Central Bank of Curaçao and St. Maarten of $155,913,000 (loan and interest repayment) for the refinancing of the Harbour Group in 2012 and for the construction of the Simpson Bay Causeway.
The Harbour Group owes a total of $39,536,000 to Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line for the cruise pier.
For the underground fuel tanks and related infrastructure, it owes Windward Roads Infrastructure and SOL $282,000.
Still pending to be repaid to the Development Bank OBNA for the widening of the Lejuez Bridge (Simpson Bay drawbridge) is $2,188,000.
The Harbour Group is still paying for its two Gottwald mobile cranes. A total of $2,561,000 is owed to Octavio for the 2008 model crane and $272,000 to Royal Caribbean Bank for the 2001 crane.
The Harbour Group also has another payment of $1,500,000 pending to Windward Roads for the construction Walter Plantz Pier (across from Sea Palace).
Responding to queries about the Harbour Group possibly competing with marinas for yacht traffic, Connor said the its company sold fuel exclusively in the Great Bay Port concession area to (small) cruise vessels and to transit giga-yachts. The aim is not to compete with the lagoon, but to service those vessels that cannot transit the lagoon channel.
On the hosting of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), Connor said the total net cost had been $6.5 million. That amount includes the site build-up at Dr. A.C. Wathey Cruise and Cargo Facilities due to lack of suitable conference space. Government's requested contribution to the actual event was $1.5 million.
The Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP) paid to government NAf. 1.5 million in 2011, NAf. 1 million in 2012, NAf. 3 million in 2013 and NAf. 2.2 million in 2014.
The ministry has some 13 "critical" vacancies, including an administrative assistant, casino controllers, maritime and shipping expert, and an analyst.
The ministry is still working on the Gaming Control Board and the Consumer Protection Agency. The latter agency is under development via a law and the structure for the Competition Authority. The draft law is with the Department of Legal Affairs for vetting.
Speaking about the tourism sector, Connor said the destination had "lost its lustre" due to the focus "more on numbers than quality of service." The country needs to understand what service is and what it means to grow as a people and product, he added.
"Any place that is a good place to live and work is a good place to visit," the minister said, pointing to the need to take care of the districts to better residents' living areas. This will help residents feel proud of their neighbourhoods and will encourage them to be better hosts. "A host is not only the person at the hotel. The host is all of us," he said.
St. Maarten is "still working" to meet the criteria set out by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) audit. St. Maarten uses a flight inspector from Curaçao, as the country does not have a St. Maarten inspector, a shortcoming that will be remedied in the future.
An economic vision summit will be scheduled for the middle of the year to chart the way for the economy via medium- and long-term goals.