Saba has been working for nearly eight years to decide how to split the shares of NV GEBE, formerly a central government- owned utilities company. The Island Council Friday unanimously approved the proposal to shift Saba’s stake in GEBE to that island.
The government said the company plans to invest the money into infrastructure and other developments. In a memorandum of understanding, representatives of St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius agreed last year to divide the shares of GEBE with a formal buyout of the stakes that St. Maarten owns. On St. Eustatius, lawmakers had agreed to the share transfer on August 9, 2012. The process has been in the works since 2005. In December 2005, representatives of the then-Netherlands Antilles Central Government signed over control of GEBE and its associated shares to St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius. However, the islands had not decided how they would divvy up the GEBE shares. St. Maarten argued that, by paying for the costlier light fuel that the two other islands used, it subsidized Saba’s and Statia’s operations. This led to a unilateral island ordinance by St. Maarten before the October 2010 transition, ensuring that no St. Maarten-generated GEBE revenue could be invested in Saba and Statia. Controlling shares means GEBE’s profit on Saba and Statia can be used to bolster those islands’ development. The shareholding foundation intervened, citing that GEBE’s costs could not be broken down by areas of service. An analogy would be GEBE footing the bill for electricity cost shared throughout St. Maarten despite, for instance, Philipsburg being more profitable. To address the impasse, the Dutch government sent some expert consultants to initiate company separation procedures. The outcome of those negotiations was that Saba and Statia would be bought out with about 10 million guilders (about $6 million) combined and after a five-year transition the two would have to buy back the island assets from the GEBE Company solely owned by St. Maarten. Saba and Statia refused to accept the Dutch-backed agreement. During the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles, properties on each island were transferred to the respective island governments. This was the basis for latter negotiations led directly by Saba and Statia.
In this case, Saba lobbied for a 10 million-guilder ($6.2 million) stake and St. Eustatius lobbied for nearly 18 million guilders ($9 million). They also negotiated for assets amounting to nearly $6 million being transferred to the company. On Friday, Commissioner Chris Johnson outlined the process of securing the GEBE assets for Saba, touting the results of residents of Saba and St. Eustatius vying for their own clout. “A year dealt a great difference for us on the islands compared to when others led the negotiations for us,” Johnson said. GEBE is already laying cables underground and upgrading its infrastructure with funds from the 2012 budget. The commissioner said he is optimistic about opening a new chapter in energy supply negotiations with the ministry of economic affairs, the Dutch government and Statia. Saba is considering moving the power plant and investing in wind energy to better secure the island’s energy future.
Source: “The Daily Herald” 3013-07-04