Editorial: Opposing objectives

POSTED: 06/21/11 1:22 PM

It’s been quiet for a while but the trench ware between GEBE’s managing director ir. William Brooks and his predecessor Julius Lambert seems to be getting a new lease on life. Only this time it does not feel like mudslinging. This time stuff is ;laid down in a report with the ominous title Financial Performance GEBE, and the news is of course all bad for the current managing director.

The most remarkable premise we read so far is that GEBE is apparently overcharging its customers. This creates the impression that the utilities company has the freedom to set prices for water and electricity. But is that really so?

The ordinance that regulates GEBE’s concession for the production of electricity gives a clear answer to that question – and the answer is no. The island council approves the concession ordinance on July 26 of last year. Article 12 states that the price the concession holder is allowed to charge consumers for electricity is regulated by island ordinance (after the transition to country status: national ordinance).

The price is based on a cost orientation that takes investments and operational costs into account. It is therefore incorrect to say that GEBE, or GEBE’s management, is overcharging consumers. If this is the case at all, the government of St. Maarten is taking consumers for a ride.

The conclusion in the report written by the supervisory board and its chairman – Brooks’ predecessor Julius Lambert – that consumers are being overcharged to compensate for very poor management, comes therefore across as a stretch, and a poor attempt at badmouthing Brooks.

That there is something off with the fuel clause is clear. The system that is currently in place allows the company to charge part of its operational costs via this clause. In the new tariff system this will no longer be the case: GEBE will only charge consumers the real fuel cost – not a penny more.

It is furthermore remarkable that the supervisory board is blaming the current GEBE-management for excessive losses on its water distribution network. The pipes that are now giving up and causing these losses were installed under the previous management. Brooks is just cleaning up the mess and replacing the poor material Lambert had installed with pipes of a better quality.

Unfortunately, the warring between Lambert and Brooks will almost certainly continue. Lambert is hell-bent on getting rid of Brooks, and he has allies in the political arena in the form of DP parliamentarian Roy Marlin, who said in September 2009 that Brooks ought to vacate his seat because staff has “issues” with him.

In December of that same year, Brooks was suspended, but after he took the company to court, he was reinstated. Since then, the supervisory board has continued with attempts to undermine his position, among others by announcing the appointment of additional directors without informing him about it. In spite of all this pressure, Brooks has remained on his post.

There is no doubt that running a utilities company is anything but a walk in the park. When generators break down and people are left without electricity, they are quick to point fingers – and the managing director of such a company is their prime target.

Brooks started with the company as managing director on January 1, 2007 and he has by now about half a year left on his five-year contract. It is typical that the supervisory board suddenly saw fit to release the financial performance report to the media, only days after Brooks himself had opened the media offensive with a press conference designed to give an update on the company’s performance and to offer a perspective on the new tariff structure.

There are no coincidences, so we start thinking that both the press conference and the release of the report are part of agendas with opposing objectives.

 

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