Black Immigrant Daily News
PHILIPSBURG — Utilities company GEBE is in a serious crisis, Minister of General Affairs Silveria Jacobs acknowledged during a public meeting of Parliament on Friday, but the shareholder (the Council of Ministers) has “limited authority to intervene.” Only the supervisory board of directors can provide the solution, she said.
Jacobs also made clear that GEBE has no legal relationship with parliament and that parliament has no authority over the company. “It cannot summon members of the managing board or the supervisory board to parliament; they can appear voluntarily but they are not compelled to answer questions or to provide information.”
Parliament’s authority is limited to asking members of the Council of Ministers how its exercises its shareholder-rights.
Minister Jacobs noted that “effective and immediate action” is required from the supervisory board. The shareholder has asked this board to immediately appoint a temporary and independent manager and to set up a crisis management team. The shareholder also wants GEBE to procure and conduct an independent investigation into the events of the past couple of months. This refers specifically to the period after GEBE became the victim of a cyber-attack on March 16.
Jacobs explained that the Council of Ministers discussed on March 29 the possibility “to establish a consortium of cyber security professionals and CEOs of government-owned companies to ensure that we have a standard procedure for cyber security.”
In April the ministers of Finance and VROMI met with the supervisory board to discuss the status of actions to restore data and to make sure that collection starts to take place. On August 19 there was a general shareholders meeting.
In spite of all these actions, the crisis at GEBE has not gone away. On the contrary, GEBE-clients have not received invoices, or they have paid invoices only to hear that according to GEBE they didn’t and to be informed that they are being threatened with a termination of services in September.
Minister Jacobs encourages citizens who did not receive any bills (and therefore have not paid anything) to contact GEBE’s customer service to make a payment-arrangement. Jacobs labeled a statement by GEBE that its accounts receivables are up to date as “erroneous.”
Members of Parliament had plenty of questions for the minister, but they will have to wait for the answers. Jacobs asked ten days to prepare her replies, but parliament-chair Grisha Heyliger-Marten tentatively postponed the meeting until Wednesday, August 31, giving the minister just four days (including the weekend) to come up with her answers.
Independent MP Solange Duncan noted earlier in the meeting that GEBE is a piece of critical national infrastructure. “It is the government’s responsibility to make sure that it functions properly,” she said. Duncan asked who is responsible for holding GEBE accountable. “The shareholder and the supervisory board should not have a direct influence on the company,” she said. “But what we see is that decisions are taken without integrity and that there is a serious management problem.”
Duncan pointed out that in 2017 the government delegated the regulatory role for GEBE to the Bureau Telecommunication and Post (BTP). “What is the current status of BTP’s mandate? Was anything done?”
Duncan furthermore asked whether the FBI or Microsoft headquarters had contacted GEBE’s ICT-department with a warning about a looming cyber attack.
Duncan also stated that St. Maarten has “a serious governance problem,” adding that this is not due to a lack of institutions but to having people in positions where they should not be. “If hundreds of people have to suffer for one person to keep a job then some of them are not going to take this lying down,” she warned.
MP Ludmilla de Weever noted that GEBE has postponed payments to vendors. “Does this include insurance?” she asked. De Weever also wondered how GEBE is going to pay for not-budgeted overtime and about the status of relief for seniors.
But most of all, she appeared critical of the company’s financials. “If you look at the revenue of the four big companies (GEBE, Harbor, Airport and Telem) then it does not add up. There is a leak somewhere.”
MP George Pantophlet (National Alliance) emphasized that the issues at GEBE must be resolved. “If GEBE goes down, we all go down,” he said.