An electricity invoice with the COVID-19 relief of a reduced fuel clause (top) and one without the COVID-19 relief of a fixed rate of NAf. 0.18 for the next six months (bottom).
PHILIPSBURG–“Inflammatory,” “insidious” and “extremely misleading,” were words used by water and light company GEBE to describe recent statements made by the St. Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association (SHTA), which expressed concern that the tariffs of utilities company GEBE “seemingly have gone up for consumers” during the lockdown of the past months and urged the water and light company to revisit its invoicing policy.
In a statement on Tuesday, GEBE accused SHTA of releasing “insidious statements to the media through a press release directly affecting the integrity of the Managing Directors of NV GEBE and by extension, the employees.”
“The SHTA stated that it is ‘concerned that during the lockdown of the past months, GEBE tariffs seemingly have gone up for consumers,’ and that ‘GEBE has enjoyed benefits of the reduced cost of fuel …’ The Managing Board of NV GEBE considers these remarks inflammatory and extremely misleading to the general public of St. Maarten and hereby refutes these statements,” GEBE said.
The utilities company said over the years it has, on numerous occasions, and through various media sources, done its “best” to provide information to the public about its way of work, including the monthly applied fuel clause, the tariff structure, understanding the monthly invoice, ideas for lowering electricity and water consumption and more. Some information can also be found on GEBE’s Facebook page.
GEBE said in response to the COVID-19 pandemic it announced on March 23, that it would grant a temporary relief to its consumers, effective April 1. The relief, implemented for a period of six months and applied to the monthly fuel clause, “allows customers to register a monthly savings based on this varying monthly cost,” the company said.
The fuel clause, calculated and applied monthly to the consumed electricity over the same period of time, per household/business, has been reduced to a fixed amount of NAf. 0.18 per kilowatt-hour (kwh) for the next six months. This relief was sanctioned by the Council of Ministers by way of a resolution to GEBE.
“As the COVID-19 continued to become a global disaster, and the prime minister implemented the phase of social distancing, scaled-down workforces and stay-at-home orders to combat the spread of the virus within the community, the managing board of NV GEBE, out of concern for the employees, decided to suspend the work of some employees. The meter reading for the month of March had been completed and it was decided that no reading of meters would be carried out during the month of April and that a combined invoice of two months would be issued for each service. This identical process was carried out in 2017 after the passing of Hurricane Irma,” GEBE said in its release.
The company prepared examples of electricity and water invoices which, it says, demonstrate billing with the COVID-19 relief of a reduced fuel clause and billing without the COVID-19 relief of a fixed rate of NAf. 0.18/kwh for the next six months. GEBE urged consumers to note their consumption on past bills. “This gives you an indication of your monthly demand. NV GEBE continue to calculate the fuel clause with the reduce fuel price received from our fuel supplier. The fuel clause would have been at NAf. 0.21/kwh. This will be monitored by NV GEBE monthly based on the price of fuel purchased locally,” GEBE said. Examples were also provided of water invoices –a March invoice, an April invoice and a combined invoice for March and April. GEBE said the combined invoice represents the “as it stands” billing that GEBE was “forced to apply due to the COVID-19 precautionary measures that had been implemented.”
“On each customer’s water bill [in examples provided – Ed.], [for] the 20 cubic metres of water consumption NV GEBE incurs a loss of NAf. 1. For customers with less than 20 cubic metres of water consumption the loss for NV GEBE ranges from NAf. 1 to NAf. 15. This (is) mainly due to the one-time fixed fee that is applied.” GEBE said it hopes its explanation will prove to be sufficient and that all insinuations are put to rest.
SHTA had said in its press statement that while common expectation was that the reduced fuel clause and the situation of the country would lead to a decrease in charges for consumers, GEBE’s combined two-months invoicing had pushed most consumers into higher utility tariffs, thereby offsetting any possible savings for them and causing in fact a higher bill. “As more people have stayed home during the pandemic lockdown, many individual consumers will be faced with a higher usage GEBE bill than before as well, instead of the at least an eight-hour period where there would be minimal consumption – this while GEBE enjoyed benefits of the reduced cost of fuel and at the same time many people have lost their jobs,” SHTA had said, adding that an increased GEBE bill will create a heavier burden for many households. SHTA urged GEBE to revisit its invoicing policy for the invoices recently released to consumers for both electricity and water to ensure that consumers are not inadvertently penalised for GEBE’s inability to check meters during the lockdown and the consolidation of two months usage into one invoice.
In the meantime, GEBE said anyone with future concerns can contact its Customer Care Department at:
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Examples of water invoices: a March invoice (top), an April invoice (middle) and a combined invoice for March and April (bottom).