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GEBE: Prices will drop, but slowly

PHILIPSBURG--Rapidly decreasing fuel prices will have their effect on local energy prices, but the general public will have to be patient.

"The trickledown effect of these decreases takes an average 45 days before consumers can enjoy some much-needed relief. This means based on present trends, by February's billing period, consumers will experience further relief," GEBE management stated in a press release on Wednesday.

"The main objective of GEBE is always to ensure that the fuel clause is as low as possible," GEBE Chief Operations Officer and Managing Board President Romelio Maduro said.

According to data provided, prices have dropped and will continue to do so. During the year 2014, GEBE listed the July price as 0.375 NAf./kWh, August as 0.366 NAf./kWh, September as 0.360 NAf./kWh, October as 0.338 NAf./kWh, November as 0.318 NAf./kWh, and December as 0.2648 NAf./kWh.

"We operate the power plant as efficiently as possible using heavy fuel oil (HFO) to keep costs down and we balance this with effective monthly collection of revenues to maintain a sound operating capital," he said.

In reply to consumer curiosity based on rapidly dropping international prices GEBE said, "The challenge with the windfall from the reduced energy price on the world market is timing and that translated means that the St. Maarten consumer cannot suddenly see the benefit.

"This is largely due to the company's limitation when it comes to storage of fuel it needs to operate monthly. Fuel purchased in a given month is delivered and booked at a set price quoted on the date of purchase.

"This means that the utility company's operating cost will be based entirely on that amount booked and the net sales derived from it. If after that purchase date the price suddenly falls, it will have no effect until GEBE makes its next purchases in order for the company to have an opportunity to offer some relief to its consumers.

"Purchased fuel takes a few days to be delivered to St. Maarten via ocean, and when it arrives it is stored for 15 days maximum at fuel supplier St. Maarten, as there is presently no storage alternative to allow larger or unscheduled purchases and deliveries.

"Besides this, all consumers also pay their bills the following month, which adds up to the 45 days. When this fuel is finally used to generate energy, the consumer pays based on that price as it is calculated in the fuel clause.

"The fuel clause is total fuel and lubricant cost per month – at the time of purchase – divided by the monthly net sales. However, that net sales is only determined at the end of a consumption period and this is then billed to consumers."

Other factors affecting the fuel cost include shipping to St. Maarten. These all form part of GEBE's direct expenses which the company said it offsets only by the collected revenue.

"In order for us to operate efficiently, collection of revenue is extremely important for the company's ability to provide continued and efficient service to its consumers," GEBE said.

It said it was not using the "hedge strategy," which meant that it would have entered into an agreement with its supplier to have an across-the-board price so that the spike in price would not necessarily affect the consumer.

"The challenge though is that when the price on the global market falls below this agreed price, neither GEBE nor its local consumers could benefit under such an agreement, as they would need to continue paying the originally-agreed hedge price," GEBE said.

It added that the price of the fuel it purchased was determined first by the prices of the Eastern Caribbean Posting for this region and differed from the United States. In the past, the Eastern Caribbean posting consisted of Shell West, Petro Trin and some other postings, but at present the only company trading is Petrotrin Postings.

"Also important to note is that the price differs from country to country based on the type of fuel needed as some countries may have older power plants and as such use a more inferior quality product to generate energy. The fuel used in St. Maarten consists of HFO and light fuel oil (LFO) also known as gas oil.

"Our fuel supplier delivers the supply to us adding their cost on the oil which becomes the purchase cost to GEBE. So basically we have to pay this price to get it to the island," Maduro was quoted as saying.

He added that it was GEBE's responsibility as a government-owned company to educate the general population about the fuel clause and how fuel pricing affected the consumer in St. Maarten.

Hebdo suspects killed as French siege ended: government source

PARIS (Reuters) - The two brothers wanted for the shooting of 12 people at the
offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were killed in a raid on Friday by
security forces on the print works where they were holed up with a hostage, a
government source said.
Separately, Le Monde newspaper quoted a police official as saying that the
hostage-taker at a separate stand-off at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris
had also been killed. That hostage-taker is believed to have links to the same
Islamist group as the two brothers.
French television images showed some people running out of the supermarket in
eastern Paris. The exact fate of all the hostages there and at the one at the
print works was not immediately clear.
(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; editing by Mark John)
list of exchanges and delays, please click here.

Best ‘worried’ about situation at SMMC

PHILIPSBURG--Inspector General Dr. Earl Best says he is "worried" about the situation at St. Maarten Medical Center and believes that government and stakeholders should get together to address the issues facing the medical facility sooner rather than later.

SMMC General Director Kees Klarenbeek last week pointed to the dire financial straits affecting SMMC that potentially threaten the future health of the institution if not remedied soon. Klarenbeek had said SMMC was operating in the red, with its accounts some NAf. 5 million in deficit although a number of cost-cutting measures had been employed over the past year.

Best said the situation regarding specialist care and hospital care at SMMC was "very worrisome."

"We have to really look into this. We need to find as government together with the two major stakeholders – the hospital and SZV – the means to tackle the problems that we are confronting as soon as possible."

"What worries me is that nothing has changed," Best added, noting that of all the corrective measures that had been outlined as part of the intensified supervision SMMC was placed under in 2012, only between five to 10 per cent had been accomplished.

He said the medical facility usually alluded to its financial constraints when enquiries were made about implementing the other measures. "A lot still needs to be done. One of the primary things is getting specialists to work here and this goes hand-in-hand with having financial means," Best said.

He stressed that finding a solution for the issues at SMMC had to be a collaborative effort of stakeholders. "We are waiting for a new health minister and a decision from government on what they want to do. We can do a lot of things as inspectorate by law, ... but we need to work in collaboration with stakeholders, with government, SZV and the hospital."

Klarenbeek had told this newspaper that SMMC's 2012 financial report, completed recently, showed a deficit of NAf. 2.7 million. Klarenbeek said a deficit also was expected to be recorded in the 2013 and 2014 financial reports, of which the former is currently being finalised and the latter being worked on. He was unable to estimate the amount of the deficit expected without the reports being completed. The 2012 report has been sent to government.

According to Klarenbeek, the two main areas of concern when it comes to SMMC finances are the tariffs, which do not correspond with the actual rising medical cost, and the huge unpaid bills of patients who use the hospital services. The current tariffs are some 25 per cent below actual cost. However, this figure was questioned by former Health Minister and sitting Member of Parliament Cornelius de Weever.

French forces storm small printer works in hunt for suspected killers

DAMMARTIN-EN-GOELE, France (Reuters) - French anti-terrorist police stormed a
small printing works in northern France where the two chief suspects in
Wednesday's attack on a Paris newspaper had taken hostages, explosions and
gunfire ringing out around the building.
The building in the small town of Dammartin-en-Goele, set in marsh and woodland,
had been under siege since the gunmen abandoned a high-speed car chase and took
refuge there early on Friday. A helicopter hovered overhead.
A third gunman has taken hostages at a Jewish supermarket in Paris demanding the
two be allowed to go free.
 
 “At the time of speaking, police forces are in the process, I hope, of
apprehending the perpetrators of this act of savagery and making sure they can
do no more harm,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.
No further details of the security forces' late afternoon operation were
immediately available.
He was speaking at the offices of the left-wing daily Liberation, temporarily
housing what is left of the Charlie Hebdo team, 10 of whom were killed by the
Islamist gunmen in an attack on Wednesday. Two police officers were also killed.
Wednesday's Paris attack on the Charlie Hebdo weekly has raised questions about
surveillance of radicals, far-right politics, religion and censorship in a land
struggling to integrate a five-million Muslim population, the EU's largest.
Security sources said the chief suspects in the attack -- two French-born
brothers of Algerian origin under siege now in Dammartin -- were both under
surveillance and had been placed on European and U.S. "no-fly" lists.
Charlie Hebdo had long courted controversy with satirical attacks on Islam as
well as other religions and political leaders. A witness said one of the gunmen
in Wednesday's attack was heard to shout "We have killed Charlie Hebdo! We have
avenged the Prophet!"
(Additional reporting by Paris and U.S. bureaus; Editing by Mark John, Ralph
Boulton and Peter Millership)

Hostage taking at Paris kosher supermarket, one wounded

PARIS (Reuters) - An armed man took several hostages and one person was wounded
in a shootout at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris on Friday, police sources
said, denying an earlier media report that two people were dead.
It was not immediately clear whether there was a link between that gunman and
the two suspects wanted for 12 killings at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly on
Wednesday.
However a police source said the hostage-taker resembled the man suspected of
killing a policewoman in a southern suburb of Paris on Thursday. That man in
turn is believed to be a member of the same jihadist group as the two Charlie
Hebdo suspects.
 true  The exact number of hostages taken was unclear. Local media spoke of at
least five. The police source said the man was equipped with automatic weapons.
Police immediately cordoned off the area and a helicopter was flying overhead.
North of the capital French anti-terrorist police sealed off a town and
helicopters hovered overhead after a police source said the two men believed to
have carried Wednesday's attack on the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper took at
least one person hostage in a small print works.
Separately, Paris police named a man they were looking for in connection with
Thursday's killing of a policewoman as 32 year-old Amedy Coulibaly. They said
were also looking for a 26 year-old woman called Hayat Boumeddiene. They
described both as armed and dangerous.
(Reporting by Gerard Bon, Julien Pretot and Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Mark John
and James Regan)

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