More MPs question situation at GEBE

More MPs question situation at GEBE

PHILIPSBURG--Additional questions on the unfolding situation at utilities company GEBE were posed by Members of Parliament (MPs) during the continuation of an urgent meeting on the developments impacting the liquidity of the company on Friday, August 26.

The meeting began last week Wednesday with MPs posing questions to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs. More MPs added questions during Friday’s continuation.
Given that GEBE has had to postpone payments to vendors and postpone certain capital expenditures due to incoming payments tapering off, United People’s (UP) party MP Ludmila de Weever asked a number of questions related to this. She asked about the status of Sol, which supplies GEBE with fuel and wanted to know what credit terms Sol has afforded GEBE since the Minister of Public Housing, Spatial Planning and Infrastructure VROMI said that there is a delay in paying vendors?
“What is status of Wartsila? I know the workers come from San Juan and stay weeks or months at a time? What are the credit terms with Wartsila after this hack? Where are those contractors going to stay? Did the hotels also cut GEBE off for these contractors’ hotel stay because as the Minister of VROMI stated GEBE has to postpone payments?” de Weever asked.
With the peak month of the hurricane season fast approaching, she also asked whether the insurance has been paid; what is included in the policy; whether this is sufficient and how much funds is available for the uninsured portion that GEBE self-insured for.
She also wants to know what the impact of employees’ pay is now that payments to vendors have been postponed. “I’d like an answer on the normal salaries, but I also want to know what the impact on the budget is for overtime to recover or re-enter the administration information. This was not budgeted for. And the emails coming to customers over the weekend shows a committed workforce, but at what unexpected cost to the company? What is supposed to be budgeted for is the normal salaries and all the benefits. What is the status of the employees’ health and pension benefits? God forbid, we have a hurricane, do you see where I’m going with this? An overworked staff is then expected to be on call and get the company back up and running again? What plan is in place for that?” the MP queried.
She is also seeking answers on the senior relief programme and enquired why the process to get a permanent management board in place is taking so long and why clients were told to pay their bills at the bank, but after doing so, are being told that they did not pay and are being charged for the same amounts that were already paid.
Independent MP Ludmila Duncan said GEBE, being the country’s sole electricity company, is a critical national infrastructure because the company is necessary for the country to function and everyone’s daily lives depend on it. Government has a responsibility to have a regulatory agency in place for critical infrastructure companies like GEBE. The regulatory body would impose requirements, conditions, and restrictions on businesses and organisations; issue standards; conduct inspections and audits, enforce standards by issuing fines and other consequences for violations; promote fair trade, protect consumers and conduct hearings. According to the Independent MP, about five years ago the Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication (TEATT) published a mandate making Bureau Telecommunications and Post (BTP) the regulator for the utilities sector. “Without a regulatory body – who enforces standards?” she asked, stressing that there needs to be responsibility and accountability.
“The shareholder and supervisory board should not have direct influence in the operations of the company and so the integrity of decisions, internal decisions are that of management.”
Duncan wanted to know what the current status of BTP’s mandate in terms of the actions and outcomes that were specified is; whether government has contacted BTP for the pending advice or updates on the regulatory framework for the utilities sector; whether the ICT Department at GEBE was contacted by the US FBI or Microsoft Headquarters warning of possible hacks; what government’s position is on creating a regulation for reporting hacks and other threats as it pertains to national security and what government thinks its role is as the shareholder in the regulatory process.
Duncan is also seeking answers on whether plans are in place for the ICT staff at GEBE to undergo training to detect and handle future threats; whether offsite back-ups were available when the hack occurred; whether there was an independent investigation done after the hack and if yes what were the findings; what GEBE’s current bank balances are; what the company’s liquidity situation is and how viable the company at this moment.
She also asked what the cost for the assistance in data recovery per company was; what GEBE’s strategy for revenue collection is at the moment; whether all insurance premiums are paid; what is covered by the insurance and what will be the consequences if customers do not pay their GEBE bills.
She also asked whether government believes that the current management/leadership of GEBE is bringing everyone together and effectively preparing the company for the future and whether the shareholder can request that a survey be done on the stress levels of employees.
She asked whether rumours about pending layoffs at GEBE were true and what management has done to cut costs.
She also enquired whether GEBE will be able to handle the additional load when the two towers at Mullet Bay and American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) comes online and queried the status of the new engines to stabilize the power grid and meet the growing demand and sought an update on the company’s plan to install solar systems on all schools.
National Alliance (NA) MP Angelique Romou asked whether GEBE has a functioning internal audit department; whether the Internal Audit Department is properly manned for its core tasks; and whether the company has a whistle-blower policy. Romou also asked whether GEBE’s new or revised IT policy is based on any international cyber security frameworks and standards and whether GEBE is using any third-party vendors to strengthen its cyber security infrastructure.
She wants information on the Chief Financial Officer’s (CFO’s) approach and strategy as it relates to the financial position of the company; whether the CFO has made any serious indications that the company is in dire financial trouble and asked which budget scenario GEBE is operating from and whether the CFO is looking for financing options as a result of the financial situation.
Romou wants to know what steps the Supervisory Board of Directors is taking as it relates to the current situation of the company and how the board intends to supervise and steer this company out of its current situation. She also asked some questions on payments. “What is management’s approach to the issue with invoicing? There are so many complaints to date therefore what is management’s plan of approach to the current situation especially seeing that the company has indicated their intention to resume with collection services?” Romou asked.
The meeting on GEBE is expected to continue this Wednesday afternoon.

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