Clockwise from left: VSA Minister Omar Ottley, GEBE Special Representative/Temporary Manager Troy Washington and GEBE Commercial Manager Iris Arrindell.
PHILIPSBURG--Utilities company GEBE is exploring the option of reducing the deposit that clients are required to pay upfront to set up a payment plan from 50% to 25% of the outstanding amount owed.
The announcement was made in a press release issued on Thursday, reporting on a meeting of Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor VSA Omar Ottley, GEBE Special Representative/Temporary Manager Troy Washington and GEBE Commercial Manager Iris Arrindell.
During the meeting, which was held on Thursday, September 7, Ottley mentioned that while he understands the current financial situation of NV GEBE, it would be beneficial to both consumers and the company if a more feasible repayment method were devised.
Over the past few weeks, Ottley's office has been overwhelmed with calls from residents expressing their concerns about NV GEBE's demands to settle outstanding electricity and water bills to avoid disconnection. According to Ottley, “The majority of calls were persons expressing their worry about the requirement by NV GEBE that they pay 50% of their total due on electricity and water bills upfront to establish a (re)payment plan."
Washington said he has been exploring options to offer financial relief to customers, which include the reduction of the required deposit for (re)payment plans to 25% of the outstanding amount, as opposed to the 50% that is currently required.
“This initiative, driven by a joint effort among the minister’s social responsibility and NV GEBE’s commitment to corporate citizenship, aims to alleviate the financial burden faced by members of the community,” it was stated in the release.
Washington said that the situation now being faced arose due to a unique set of circumstances. “Since March 2022, NV GEBE has grappled with a cyber event that disrupted its computer systems, making it unable to provide monthly bills to some customers. Nonetheless, NV GEBE has been working diligently to ensure that all customers continue receiving utility services, without regular invoices or ongoing payments, to sustain NV GEBE’s continuous operations during this period,” it was stated in the release.
“Recognising the potential financial hardship this situation posed, NV GEBE took proactive steps to encourage its customers to make ongoing payments until the billing issues are resolved. The intention was to prevent the accumulation of unmanageable debt for the community’s continuous electricity and water consumption.”
GEBE, the release said, maintained the long-standing company policy which indicates that customers with outstanding bills who would like to establish a repayment plan are required to pay 50% up front and make payment arrangements for the remainder of the outstanding balance. In response to this challenge, many persons have even sought assistance from the VSA Ministry Social Services Department.
Some seniors’ monthly pension incomes did not afford them the financial flexibility to make upfront payments, especially when faced with the accumulation of bills that could amount to larger-than-average lump sums, the release said.
Ottley and Washington both understand the predicament faced by customers and engaged in meaningful discussions to chart a plan that demonstrates corporate responsibility and empathy for the community, the release said.
Ottley: "This collaborative effort between NV GEBE and the Ministry of VSA is a shining example of how public and private entities can come together to support their community during challenging times."
Washington: “Through our dedicated efforts, we have been working non-stop to serve the community of St. Maarten. While we understand the plight of some consumers, we are also balancing the demands of NV GEBE's rising operational cost to ensure the company's long-term sustainability. We are in full support of this joint effort to extend relief to the community of St. Maarten. With the reduction of the payment plan deposit to 25%, we are looking forward to increased customer compliance with timely bill payments.”