~ Calls for thorough investigation ~
PHILIPSBURG--Independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel said on Wednesday that the financial situation at utilities company GEBE is “scarier than anyone has been told,” with its accounts in the negative and exorbitant fees being paid monthly to consultants.
Emmanuel said the financial situation raises concerns about the stability of essential services provided to the community and has called for a thorough investigation into the company’s financial practices. He said in a press statement that GEBE’s bank balance at Windward Islands Bank (WIB) indicates a guilder account in the negative by NAf. 5 million and a US dollar account in the negative by $400,000.
The dollar account, per WIB agreement, he noted, is not permitted to go into overdraft, yet GEBE's account shows otherwise, resulting in a substantial debt of NAf. 7 million owed to WIB, Emmanuel said in a press statement.
“On Tuesday, I mentioned … that GEBE has a remaining balance as of last week of NAf. 13 million. However, what I did not mention is that the amount included a [NAf. – Ed.] 6 million term deposit that was taken away from First Caribbean and transferred to Republic Bank due to their interest rate being double,” Emmanuel said.
Among the issues highlighted as financial mismanagement are the excessive expenditures on consultants, including T&R consultants at $65,000 per month, DCC consultants at $10,000, and Jacqueline Louis, National Alliance candidate Ohndae Marlin’s campaign marketing manager, at $6,000 per month.
Additionally, concerns are raised about questionable payments to Computech, violating GEBE's procurement policy. Computech was paid $250,000 in the month of July from a contract GEBE signed with the company totalling $500,000 for routers and services. “In addition to that, GEBE is also paying Sharine Daniel thousands per day, as instructed by the court, to literally stay home,” Emmanuel said.
The Crisis Team, active for two years, has reportedly failed to resolve billing problems, with costs exceeding NAf. 2 million. Financial reporting challenges persist due to incorrect bills, outstanding billing for more than 6,000 consumers, and a reliance on bank statements rather than the SAP system. GEBE also faces a critical setback in financial reporting, with the last fully executed financial statement by Deloitte in 2019. The statements for 2020 and 2021 remain incomplete, leaving GEBE three years behind in financial reporting.
“These revelations prompt an urgent call for a thorough investigation into GEBE's financial practices and demand immediate corrective actions to ensure the continuity of essential services to the residents of St. Maarten.
“It almost feels like the government of St. Maarten and the management of GEBE want to bankrupt the company, lining it up perfectly for a Dutch takeover. We have seen this before. They will turn to the Dutch to save the company. The Dutch will respond positively and attach conditions for management, operations and more. And this government, with its history of mismanaging government companies and forsaking hard-working local people, will go along happily,” Emmanuel said.
He added that GEBE is a running fiasco for which the government must be held accountable. “The government, the prime minister and the minister of VROMI [Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure] have been blatantly lying to the people about GEBE, its finances and its operations. I challenge any of them to come out and say this information is wrong. In fact, there is more damning information about GEBE that has come to my attention and with which I will be transparent since the government prefers to lie,” Emmanuel said.
He urged government to address the questions surrounding GEBE's precarious financial situation.