Posted: Wednesday, May 13, 2020. 12:58 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: According to attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd, there is something of a run on liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) at the moment, as the former importers – Zeta, Gas Tomza and Belize Western Energy Limited (BWEL) – have stocks dwindling while the National Gas Company Limited (NGC) awaits approval from Government to begin commercial operations.
But the Government, she argues, appears to have taken the side of NGC – “a monopoly that the Government created, that the Government has some shares in, so the Government is not in a good position as a regulator and definitely is not in a good position as it has a conflict of interest.”
Long-standing customers such as restaurants, hotels, kitchens and domestic users are buying in bulk but Zeta ran out of its stock as of Monday and has closed its operations, while the others are still in operation.
Her clients, says Matura-Shepherd, are still awaiting answers from the Belize Bureau of Standards and the NGC about the final sale price (NGC, per Section 7(3) of the establishing act passed in 2019, is not directly governed by the Supplies Control Act.)
As for the commercial start date which had been mooted as May 1, Matura notes her clients could see damages for the “premature” closure of their licenses to import based on NGC’s assurances, now delayed. The Government could face liability for that, she claims.
Second, Matura questions whether the NGC may have “technical problems” they are not telling anyone about.
Third, she does not buy the suggestion that NGC has to negotiate prices with the Government, as “long before that product hit Belize, you already knew what your price was that you bought it from your middle man; you already knew what it would cost you to bring it here; you knew what it would cost to store…”
And fourth, as stated earlier, is that NGC is not governed by the Supplies Control Act, so what is there to negotiate, she asks?
Behind all the obfuscation, Matura says, her clients need to know what is the base price, including overhead and other costs, so they can give their clients the appropriate price which the SCA governs against her clients.
She concludes, “What they have tried to do is throw the burden on my clients and say you’re going to create a problem – no; we’re not creating a problem. My clients are ready to buy; it’s your monopoly company that’s not ready to sell.”
The Bureau of Standards has said the matter is before Cabinet.
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