Gumbs Questions PM Jacobs about GEBE, climate change MOU

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PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Party for Progress member of Parliament Melissa Gumbs submitted a letter to Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs on Monday, requesting an update on the status of NV GEBE. Gumbs said the one year anniversary of the ransomeware cyberattack that had crippled the company’s ability to invoice customers had passed with near silence from both GEBE and the government, but that to date, there were still serious concerns regarding billing and collections.

“People have been asked to faithfully pay their GEBE bills, without actually knowing the bill,” Gumbs states. “Many have done so, since March 2022, but with no receipt to show for it. Some are receiving one bill, but not the other. The situation remains one of confusion, and both GEBE and government remain silent on the matter.”

In her letter to the Prime Minister, Gumbs requests a comprehensive update on the status of GEBE’s customer billing database, including any steps taken to reconcile customer payments since March 2022 with their billing information. Gumbs has stated publicly that she herself has only sporadically received her water usage bill, using her last electricity bill of March 2022 as a guide for paying extra. However, this is not ideal for anyone to continue to do, particularly when there is not always a receipt received for payment.

Further in her letter, Gumbs asked the Prime Minister to provide an update on GEBE’s readiness for the upcoming 2023 hurricane season, as well as whether or not the projected high temperatures for 223 would impact the stability of the company’s electricity distribution. 

“With or without a hurricane, there are other climate change realities at play that may affect GEBE’s operations,” Gumbs says. “There are studies that have highlighted the impact that a one degree increase in temperature have on electricity usage, and therefore, on the stress placed on an electricity grid. It must be made clear if GEBE’s financial and operational status can sustain the current and projected high temperatures for 2023, in particular the upcoming season.”

Gumbs continued her letter with questions related to the recently held Caribbean Climate and Energy Conference, and the memorandum of understanding signed between the four countries in the Kingdom. The MOU was heralded as a means to further collaboration on addressing climate change for the Caribbean countries in the Kingdom, as well as for the Netherlands. 

“The CCEC was a welcome step forward in the relationship with Climate Minister Rob Jetten,” she says. “But I have asked for a copy of the MOU, as well as whether or not a representative from GEBE attended. It’s critical to understand whether there is a fund to be established or made accessible for the execution of any projects developed under the MOU, and whether or not GEBE is expected to foot part of or all of the bill.”

Finally, MP Gumbs ended her letter with a question regarding GEBE’s capacity to handle current and future onboarding of large developments, including the now-for-sale WestVue development at the location of the former Summit Hotel. She notes that GEBE’s capacity must be evaluated along with the environment’s ability to handle the continuous development facing the island.

“It’s easy to pour concrete,” Gumbs concludes. “But is it easy to power the units inside the structure? What can GEBE accommodate, what is their limit? How do the concerns of climate change shape our thinking about these types of developments? This is in line with what I asked the Prime Minister’s colleague, the Minister of VROMI in an ongoing Parliament meeting: will we hit the pause button on large scale developments while we figure out HOW we want to sustainably develop for the future? Thus far, with these permits being processed faster than those requested for personal homes, it doesn’t seem to be the case that any government intends to hit ‘Pause.’”

Gumbs said she hoped to receive her responses before Parliament went on recess, which begins at the end of June.