FORMER GEBE CHAIRMAN, RENE RICHARDSON TALKING!

Table of Contents

The Systematic Failure of GEBE: An In-Depth Analysis

The current crisis at GEBE in Sint Maarten didn’t emerge overnight. In a revealing interview, Rene Richardson, former chairman of the supervisory board, paints a disturbing picture of decades of mismanagement, corruption, and political interference.

Political Exploitation and Financial Depletion

Richardson exposes how successive governments have used GEBE as a personal bank. A glaring example is the action of the Marcel Gumbs government in 2015. In addition to the usual 5 million guilder concession fee, they demanded an extra 15 million. Moreover, 15 million was withdrawn from the water reserves. In total, 30 million guilders were extracted from GEBE in a single year.

This practice wasn’t isolated. Richardson refers to the period under CEO Julius Lambert, when substantial reserves were built up. These reserves, intended for investments and as a buffer against calamities such as hurricanes, have been systematically plundered by political decisions.

Corruption and Conflicts of Interest: Concrete Examples

Richardson reveals several shocking examples of corruption:

  1. A marketing contract worth 1 million dollars signed without the knowledge of the supervisory board. Richardson discovered that weekly checks of $20,000 were being written to the involved party.
  2. An IT contract with an American company where money was transferred monthly for work that wasn’t demonstrably performed. Richardson estimates the value of this contract at $500,000.
  3. In the procurement of new generators, there were indications that certain politicians and administrators received ‘kickbacks’ from suppliers, undermining objective decision-making.

The Hack: A Devastating Blow

In 2017, GEBE was hit by a severe cyber attack. Richardson reveals that as early as 2016, when he was still on the board, there were warnings about vulnerabilities in the IT system. These warnings were ignored. The hack had devastating consequences:

  1. Loss of customer data and billing history.
  2. Inability to send accurate bills, leading to cash flow problems.
  3. Long-term disruption of internal processes and customer service.

Richardson suggests that the impact of this hack may have been more severe than the damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

Missed Opportunities and Failing Infrastructure

A crucial missed opportunity was the debt relief around 10-10-10. GEBE could have had about 20 million guilders in outstanding government bills written off. Due to administrative shortcomings, this failed.

Regarding infrastructure, Richardson points to the repeated postponement of necessary investments. Plans for two new dual-fuel engines were blocked, forcing GEBE to continue operating on outdated equipment. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, it became painfully clear how vulnerable this had made GEBE.

The Role of Specific Administrators

Richardson is critical of the caliber of today’s politicians and administrators. He contrasts the current situation with his own time, when people like Claude Wathey, Ralph Richardson, and Joe Richardson were at the helm. These men were, according to him, well-educated and competent.

He expresses specific criticism of William Marlin’s government, which in 2016 refused to listen to advice on necessary investments. He also mentions the role of Theodore Heyliger in the aftermath of the 2016 elections, where political deals obstructed the formation of a stable administration.

Way Forward according to Richardson

Richardson’s analysis reveals a pattern of systematic mismanagement that has spanned decades. He calls for immediate action:

  1. Deploying a power ship as a temporary solution.
  2. Immediately ordering new generators, even if full funding isn’t yet secured.
  3. Thorough reform of GEBE’s governance, focusing on transparency and expertise.
  4. A cultural shift in the political approach to government-owned companies in Sint Maarten.

Only by addressing these fundamental problems can there be hope for a sustainable solution for Sint Maarten’s energy supply.