~ Suggesting Dutch takeover ‘unfounded’, ‘ludicrous’ ~
PHILIPSBURG–Utilities company GEBE has firmly debunked what it referred to as selective and misleading allegations made by independent Member of Parliament (MP) Christophe Emmanuel regarding the financial management of the company and indicated that it is “unfounded” and “ludicrous” for the MP to suggest a Dutch takeover of the company.
In a comprehensive press release issued on Thursday, GEBE responded to the allegations levelled by the MP and clarified what it said are “the facts” as it sought to “defend the integrity” of the company.
GEBE said it had carefully planned its finances and sought professional advice to ensure the company recovers from the “severe cyber-attack” of 2022. “Upon current management’s assumption of leadership, it met with a company that had diminished financial reserves, primarily due to a significant loss of income. Additionally, management inherited the challenge of unpaid vendor obligations. Litigation instigated by one of NV GEBE’s vendors, among other inefficiencies, contributed to the decision of the shareholder to replace the previous management,” GEBE said in the release.
Despite these hurdles, GEBE said a crisis management team had taken decisive action to stabilise the company’s financial situation. Efforts to improve collections were implemented despite the limitations of a compromised billing and invoicing system.
“The current management’s goal remains to provide the best possible services to the community of St. Maarten and transition the company to a sustainable future. To tackle the challenges NV GEBE encounters, management works closely with the Supervisory Board to ensure that the company resources are utilised efficiently and that we bring the highest level of expertise,” it was stated in the release.
GEBE said the financial information mentioned by MP Emmanuel offers “a biased view” of the company’s financial reality and does not accurately depict the company’s financial well-being. “For example, deciding to transfer our funds from one financial institution to another represents a tactical move to allow NV GEBE to take advantage of favourable interest rates, which is in the best interest of the company’s financial position. This is what responsible management of finances requires. It is also a decision in keeping with proper corporate governance.”
Regarding consultancy services, GEBE said the investments in consultancy services, which are standard operations in major companies, were related to assessing the company’s situation in 2022 and geared towards strengthening GEBE’s infrastructure and human capital to ensure long-term benefits and operational efficiency.
“The crisis management team was supported by consultants until the end of 2022. Their valuable contribution laid down a strategic foundation for enhanced billing system efficiency, improved ICT [information and communications technology – Ed.] structures and improvement to HRM [human resource management] and other operational processes. The crisis team was instituted for a specific mandate, concluded its mission after providing a comprehensive report to the shareholder, and transitioned to change management,” it was stated in the release.
GEBE said targeted initiatives, especially in the ICT sector, were necessary to address the immediate needs identified by the reports and recommendations of the consultants for enhanced data protection, improved infrastructure and cybersecurity; these decisions are made in the company’s and its stakeholders’ best interest.
“Management has since taken remedial steps to strengthen our systems and ensure our billing processes are robust and reliable. In September 2022, NV GEBE’s collections were outstripped by its expenditures. Today, NV GEBE has restored invoicing to over 90% and instituted cost-cutting measures to ensure positive cash flow at the company. In coordination with trusted financial partners, management arranged for a limited overdraft facility, which was a crucial step in maintaining continuity of operations. This facility has been essential for ensuring the timely payment of vendors and staff. It has also served as a bridge while management works to recover the functionality of NV GEBE’s billing system and restore the full ability to issue accurate bills to our customers,” GEBE said in the release.
As for the company’s financial reporting, GEBE said the delays in issuing financial statements pre-date the company’s current management. However, efforts are underway to eliminate the backlog in financial statements. This process is complex due to the loss of financial systems. However, management is committed to ensuring that the process to complete the financial reports is executed accurately and thoroughly; NV GEBE will be up to date by 2024.”
GEBE indicated that “it is entirely unfounded and ludicrous to suggest that it would intentionally destabilise itself to facilitate a Dutch takeover. “NV GEBE’s actions have consistently demonstrated a commitment to self-sufficiency. The company continues to work with local and international vendors, suppliers and experts to restore and improve systems, processes and procedures toward a revived organisation that our entire community can be proud of. NV GEBE is continually engaged with all stakeholders, including the government and financial institutions, to foster a transparent examination of NV GEBE’s financial activities. NV GEBE has cooperated with the Integrity Chamber, which conducted an extensive review of corporate governance at the company. We view constructive, solution-oriented feedback as an opportunity to affirm our dedication to the improvement of NV GEBE,” the company said in the release.
“Management remains devoted to NV GEBE’s mission of delivering reliable utility services and ensuring the company’s fiscal solidity and operational integrity. We stand firm in navigating financial and operational challenges with resolute transparency and adherence to the highest corporate governance standards. We urge our community to be mindful of political ploys that distort the facts and engage in fearmongering. We invite our community and stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogue based on accurate information and feasible, results-oriented solutions,” GEBE said.
“At NV GEBE, we remain steadfast in our efforts to work with the community towards enhanced services, which includes increased billing and payment compliance for services consumed, as this is essential to sustain the company’s wide-ranging operations. NV GEBE is here to support the community through this process. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we explore viable solutions for the benefit of all stakeholders,” GEBE concluded in the release.