Monday, May 20th

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Editorial - Underlying question

GEBE provided some useful information on various topics of interest during a press conference last week Friday (see Saturday paper). Especially with all the recent controversy surrounding the departure of Chief Operations Officer (COO) Romelio Maduro, it was in any case good to hear from the management currently in charge.

Mind you, that does not mean the issue is over and done with, because the legal battle continues. Nevertheless, life goes on and certainly for something as crucial as public utilities it's important to get confirmation that an adequate level of continuity is guaranteed.

Most of what was brought forward made sense, but the update regarding the proposed waste-to-energy plant left many disappointed to say the least. After, all successive local governments over the past decade or so had assured voters time and again that the project was on track, but it turns out there is a major problem.

It appears the initially-planned facility to produce electricity from garbage now buried at the landfill could do so only at a higher cost than GEBE – depending on the oil price – currently spends using fossil fuels. This would either create financial difficulties for the government-owned company or force it to structurally increase the tariffs, which are already relatively high.

Of course, the great benefit would be a sustainable solution for the ever-growing "trash mountain" on Pond Island, but there are limits to what extent GEBE and by virtue its customers reasonably can and should be burdened with this. Also considering the recent income figures published in the Transparency International (TI) report and the known cost of living on the island, this matter indeed must be handled with great care.

In addition to the impact on households already struggling to make ends meet, the consequences for the tourism economy as a whole must be taken into account. Utility rates have a direct effect on the bottom line of visitor accommodations and practically everything else.

On the other hand, the longer no decision is made the worse the environmental mess at the dump becomes. The seemingly underlying question is what price St. Maarten would be willing to pay for a more environmentally-friendly approach.