After KLM sold part of their West-Indisch Bedrijf to the Antillean government in 1964, operations were continued by ALM Antillean Airlines. In 1969 the Antillean government acquired ALM and Windward Islands' Winair. After a fairly prosperous start, it took only 5 to 10 years before ALM started losing money and, after a brief interlude where they operated as Air ALM, finally had to be taken over by DCA Dutch Caribbean Airlines in 2000. After years of mismanagement, many people in DCA and in the government figured the 2000 trick could be repeated: Rename the company, transfer the assets to another one and conveniently forget about the debts. If one thing comes out loud and clear in the story below, it's that nobody had an inkling of how bad matters were, except, maybe (?) the DCA top management.
By the end of 2003 DCA received an 8.2M seven year loan at 5% interest from S.O.A. Stichting Economische Ontwikkeling [Foundation Economic Development] without access to company results. 4.5M had been used in January 2004. SOA's board consisted of prestigious figures as MCB (Maduro-Curiel's Bank) director Lionel Capriles and ex-governor Jaime Saleh; he first gave the story to Antilliaans Dagblad and then, much later, reproached them for publishing it.
In March Korpodeko, an official organization set up to promote new business, loans DCA 8.5M. Later, it turns out they have loaned 3M already, in February (5 years at 6.5%.) They have not been shown any sort of accounting. PLKP Deputy Ingvar Asjes, DCA-Beheer representative, later claims not knowing anything about this loan. Former PLKP deputy Anthony Leonard then was director of both DCA and Korpodeko. DCA reports a 2001 profit of 6.9M; 2002 3.8M; 2003 loss .6M. These later turn out really to have been losses: 2001 4.8M; 2002 14.8M; 2003 20.8M, not including old ALM debts. Korpodeko counts on yet another government loan of 15M in March; it only comes through in July.
The 3M were supposed to be for leasing of a 767 aircraft for DCA's CUR-AMS flights, but the company had no operating license for that enterprise; the rest of the money was meant for starting cooperation with Air Holland, who went bankrupt 4 days later. Meanwhile, DCA got another 2M credit from MCBank.
In the first week of August, only one DC9 was left in operation. It is agreed a tripartite commission must be established to work on DCA problems; this has never been realized. In 2004, the island has spent 37M on DCA, including 12M on uncollected taxes. (Island deficit is expected to be an unprecedented 148M this year, with strong and justified suspicions it will be closer to 200M.)
August Impacto Employment Agency, where DCA has a 1.3M debt, seizes all money going from the government to DCA. According to civil law, directors of DC Beheer can be held personally responsible, which includes present and former island deputies (politicians). Except Asjes, they all resign from their posts after having had a bailiff pass by with summons, including director Mario Evertsz, who has resigned in July, just before being fired. Months later, it turns out he did not resign as director of Curaçao Airlines, though. There's talk of exempting him, and others, from this personal responsibility; for unclear if maybe obvious reasons.
By August, 7M more of "transition money" has gone to DCA, with monthly salary costs 1.5M. (Nobody seemed to know how many workers DCA in fact had; there was talk of 500 and of over 700. FOL may have been adding some more when in power.)
Ingvar Asjes the man who knows better Photo Express/Info A
Government juridical advisers AJZ report end August that a start through by Curaçao Airlines, owned by DC Beheer, would contaminate the new company, the more so as it would have the same management. Also, nothing at all is known about DCA finances. Asjes knows better and pushes on for just such a start-through: Not one day will pass between shut down of DCA and start up of a new company. Famous last words, but voters have even shorter memories than politicians - who are still considering this option. By the end of November, our Leaders finally realize it will be months before we can start another company. The good news is that DCA bankruptcy would not have serious financial consequences for the island, as the island government has consistently refused to back any guarantees for DCA. Nor would DCA's failing affect tourism (yet another unfulfilled charge.) This is born out later; out of the 27,000 passengers not carried by DCA, 22,000 just switched to AA, BonairExel and HollandExel. At Hato Airport at least 2 DC9s and 3 Dash-8 aircraft are sitting with their engines removed. DCA foreign debt now was ANG27M and, local, ANG6M. It's not clear if this includes the ANG7M SobelAir claims. The DCA board of directors seem to have figured that, as Sobel was bankrupt, they would get away with not paying. About the same time, accounts over 2001 were finally published, and these seemed to be, let's say, incomplete.
Proposal after proposal is discussed in the island council, causing expensive delay upon delay, but none of them is viable: There is no way Curaçao Airlines can rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of ALM and DCA.
DCA personnel comes up with acreative solution: When the government forfeits the taxes DCA hasn't paid, and lowers taxes on their pension funds, that money can be put to use to start through with a new company. They seem to feel this is acceptable, even fine (and we just mention in passing that, anyway, it won't be of any help with the awesome debts ALM has left behind.)
Lawyer Frank Kunnemann is hired to try and find ways to get the government out of its lawful obligations. Imagine having a government like that. Meanwhile, personnel has to be paid on September 25, which is impossible with the seizure by Impacto—meanwhile followed by others (the hospital, for one.) Larmonie from AJZ is threatened by DCA personnel collected at the council building. Finally a solution is found, but it is not made public what it is. We do have Asjes' assurance that it's not illegal; the island government would never do something illegal!
This is so cynical, it's sick. Or so naïve, for a politician it's even sicker. Just visit the political circus and check me, and Asjes, out. We can be pretty sure the council, somehow, has reserved 12M for DCA personnel, to guarantee their salaries for 3 months. Actually, that amount should be enough for almost a year, if we may believe other claims. But I won't blame anybody by now for not believing anything these guys claim. Question remains: If it's so kosher, why keep it a secret?
Other people feel the same way and there is talk to start criminal prosecutions of DCA's management; by minister of transport Omayra Leeflang, one of the few politicians who has not lost her head during all this.
You must know that, normally, the personnel is the very last creditor to get money when a company goes bankrupt. I'm not saying it's just, but such is the Law. I personally have had that non-pleasure several times (just lucky, I guess.) Of course, when you feel there's a conflict of interests when trade union leaders start political parties, like PLKP, or when politicians start private companies, you may have a point.
October By now, DCA doesn't even have outgoing phone lines anymore; they've been disconnected.
Asjes flies to Puerto Rico accompanied by CTB director Hepple and, to the best of everybody's knowledge completely unauthorized, starts negotiations with American Eagle. He comes back all excited with a great solution: American Eagle will be glad to take over the DCA network; we just have to guarantee them all costs plus a 5% fee. He continues negotiating with BWIA (the Airline of Trinidad and Tobago) for the same kind of deal, which he feels is quite legit: How could an airline possibly be run without getting government money? (Is how he figures. He even makes the impression of being naïve enough not to insist on a cut for himself, but better keep an eye on him, just to make sure.)
Meanwhile, Exel has been offering to do exactly all that, and more, all along, but entirely at their own risk. In the last two weeks before bankruptcy Exel has been deluged with letters from DCA workers applying for jobs, anyway. Venezuelan Avior as well is starting flights to/from Curaçao and Valencia-Maracaïbo-Trinidad-Tobago in the last week of October; and they don't need government funds, either. Same goes for Venezuelan Aserca, starting from half November 2004; and KLM will neither deny nor confim rumors about a new company Curaçao Airways.
The curtain has fallen on October 13, 2004: DCA is declared bankrupt. Everybody else can only be relieved. If only the politicians had faced up to facts four years, or even three months, ago... But that, as usual, would be too much to ask.
Some are still talking about a start through...
By October 23, it is announced passengers who have been fooled into buying tickets will not get a refund. Cargo and luggage is still stuck in Miami and Curaçao (and who knows where else.)
As it turns out, DCA has not paid the income tax substracted from their employees salaries, so these will have to pay again. The same goes for employees' mortgage payments subtracted from their salaries. While this of course is a disgrace, immediately one more question rears its ugly head: Why did DCA's employees in the accounting department, who must have known about this, keep silent? (And one pressing question: Will they, in fact, ever be forced to pay that tax? Just curious) And what did all those people do all day long in DCA's last half year? Play cards?
The last DCA flight, very much in style, was delayed.