~ Heyliger stresses future integration ~
MAHO--Minister responsible for Energy Affairs Maurice Lake said last week Friday that the official transfer of all of the shares of GEBE to St. Maarten could not have happened without the close collaboration of all stakeholders and, in particular, without the vision of Member of Parliament (MP) Theo Heyliger.
"The final leg of this process was started by the former Minister of Energy Affairs [while he was still a commissioner – Ed.] who, today, is present Member of Parliament Theo Heyliger. One must give credit where credit is due.
"I would like to congratulate MP Heyliger for his vision with respect to the future of GEBE because, under his watch, the basic agreement that got the ball rolling was signed by the representatives of the three islands – Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten – to move in this direction," Lake said.
The transfer of shares, giving St. Maarten 100 per cent ownership of the utilities company, took place at Sonesta Maho Beach Resort last week Friday.
Present for the transfer were Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams, Governor Eugene Holiday, MPs Heyliger and Roy Marlin, former MP from St. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles constellation Marcel Gumbs, the governors of Saba and Statia, commissioners from Saba and Statia, GEBE's Supervisory Board members and members of GEBE's soon-to-be-defunct Shareholding Foundation, among others.
Also present were the heads of the new utility companies in Saba and Statia. Fred Couvalier will lead Statia Utility Company STUCO and Dexter Johnson will be at the helm of Saba Electrical Company (SEC). A six-month grace period of sorts is now in effect, allowing St. Maarten to render any technical service that may be required by Saba and Statia. All operations and employees will be transferred by January 1, 2014.
The board of GEBE St. Maarten also will have three Supervisory Board members at the start of the year. These three members then will appoint two more, giving the board a complement of five members.
Heyliger expressed pride at the historic occasion. "Friday was a great day as the final documents for the full ownership of GEBE are now in St. Maarten's hands, a process that was started and agreed to when I was minister. I am proud to know that St. Maarten has left her two sister islands with a proper electrical network and a healthy new company," he said.
"For St. Maarten, it means that we can finally get into full swing in the integration of water, sewage, solid waste, renewable energy and even telecom into the new GEBE. We can look forward to the creation of more local jobs, infrastructure and wealth for our population, while working on decreasing the cost of living to the consumers.
"I am extremely proud of this accomplishment and congratulate the present Minister Lake and management of GEBE in getting us to this day."
While acknowledging the achievement, Lake lamented former Minister William Marlin's role, or rather lack of action, to move the transfer process forward. "It was, however, unfortunate that for one year, 12 months to be exact, the other former minister of energy did not give this transfer the priority that it deserved, as during that period nothing, or very little if any, was done," Lake said.
"When I became minister back in June, tomorrow, six months, to be exact, I met with all stakeholders in order to inform them that this transfer was a priority issue for me and to get the wheels moving, and the result is this historic moment. When you go back to basics, these things happen and become reality."
Lake also assured Saba and Statia that GEBE would be ready to assist them and their new electricity companies if so needed. "I would like to assure our brothers and sisters of Saba and St. Eustatius, despite this historic separation into three utility companies, GEBE St. Maarten will always be there to assist wherever possible," he said.
"GEBE St. Maarten will continue to work with the new companies in Saba and Statia with respect to the transition process over the next six months. The relationship as one company for decades cannot be erased with this agreement and this historic moment. This is another phase in the process of being able to meet the challenges of the future, and it is also based on the constitutional realities that took place on 10-10-10."
The minister stressed that GEBE St. Maarten now would have to focus on a number of areas important to the company and national development.
"We have such issues as water production and an island-wide sewage system, which are both described as core competencies of NV GEBE in its articles of incorporation. Other matters that are equally relevant or, some might argue, even more important are the lowering of the fuel clause and the generation of energy using renewable energy and alternative fuels. All are essential to the quality of life of the people of St. Maarten," he said, adding that a plan of action would be needed for each of these priorities.
"I am fully confident in the staff and management of GEBE that we will overcome the challenges regarding the daunting task that lies ahead. The challenges are many, but with a plan of action for each area, and being proactive rather than reactive, I am confident in the staff of GEBE and management, as well as its board, to move forward in a timely manner," Lake said.
He took good care in reminding the gathering that under the former Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten's commissioners of energy affairs had worked diligently to have GEBE, then owned by the Central Government, turned over to the three Windward Islands – Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.
"During that period of time, we had our present Prime Minster, Sarah Wescot-Williams, and our present Members of Parliament, Roy Marlin and Theo Heyliger, who were three of the commissioners in the Executive Council of St. Maarten, former Lt. Governor Franklyn Richards, former State Secretary Marcel Gumbs, former Minister Richard Gibson Sr., as well as many others too numerous to mention. On behalf of the people of St. Maarten, I would like to say a warm thank you to all of you," Lake said.
He also thanked Kamla Bescanson of Van Eps Kunneman & Van Doorn for her part in the preparation of the documents, as well as his chief of staff Veronica Jansen-Webster, who was very instrumental "in the background" in bringing the transfer of GEBE shares to its conclusion.