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LPG Importers On the Offensive, National Gas Company Ready #541565
04/09/20 04:52 AM
04/09/20 04:52 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 71,941
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

2 Days ago, we told you how the 3 Central American Butane Importers filed for an injunction against the Government in the courtroom of the new Acting Chief Justice, Michelle Arana.

The 3 importers, Gas Tomza Limited, Southern Choice Butane, and Belize Western Energy Limited, say that the government threatened to take action against them for simply wanting to lower the prices of their butane to give Belizeans a small break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You'll remember how they announced on Friday that they were dropping their prices countrywide from 93 cents per pound and $4.20 per gallon, to 88 cents per pound and $3.99 per gallon.

They say that they were doing it out of goodwill to their customers, but yesterday, the management of all 3 companies received stern letters from from Jose Trejo, the Controller of Supplies at the Belize Bureau of standard.

In those letters, Trejo said, quote, "..By issuance of said release, dated April 1st, 2020 to the general public on reduced prices, and partaking in sale below the regulated price, your company is in flagrant violation of the Supplies Control Regulations." End quote.

Trejo goes on to say that the companies are, quote, "forewarned that this irresponsible and intentional act of defiance towards the governing laws and regulations will not be tolerated. Nobody, corporate or sole proprietor, is above the law… Please note that this bold act to disregard the regulations will be addressed to the fullest extent of the law." End quote.

So, they have decided to speak up on this fight, and just before midday today, Audrey Matura, one of their attorneys, held a press briefing to discuss this dispute with the Government.

She told us that her clients are surprised that they are being threatened with penalties for trying to show goodwill to their customers in this time of need. Here's how she explained it:

Audrey Matura - Attorney for Claimants

"Last year, sometime in December, just before Christmas, the companies all gave a reduced price to consumers because the truth is, worldwide the prices for butane are going down. When they did that, the Government threatened them because they had lowered the prices, and they complied. They compiled because the Government passed a Statutory Instrument #57 of 2019, in which they're saying, we don't want to give you all the ability - for controlled prices. And they moved it from controlled prices to fixed prices. We have filed an application for judicial review over the decision the Government made to reduce that decision of theirs into law. That matter is still before the court."

"Our clients made the decision, all the gas companies, made the decision that since world prices are plummeting again, that it was unfair for them during this time of COVID-19 crisis to decide to charge people the usual rate that the government has fixed, knowing very well that that is a form of exploitation. That's not what they're paying. What is happening then is the profit margins are too much and said that as a form of helping in this time of crisis, it would be good that we pass that benefit to the consumer. On the 1st of April, they launched their promotional prices."

"As a result of that, the Belize Bureau of Standards, which is the one that deals with control prices, called Mr. Bautista, threatening him that they can go and take away their inventory. Since then, yesterday, they also sent letters to the other companies threatening them. We gave you all copies of those letters. We are therefore saying that that is unjust. This is the opposite of what you all had. When the COVID-19 crisis really set in here in Belize, what some of the stores were doing was price gouging. These companies, what are they doing? They're saying, look, the same way we know that the world market is lower, it is just right that we transfer these benefits to the consumer."

"We've never seen a government ever penalize anyone for trying to sell things for less to help the consumer. This is the first time we're seeing that. And so, we need you all to know one of the reasons why we believe they're doing that. That reason is that, as you all know, the Government has passed legislation that creates a monopoly, a monopoly that the government is part of it, and is called the National Gas Company. For them, for their projections to work, and for them to make the millions they hope to make on the backs of consumers, it is in the interest of the Government to keep prices high."

"They cannot make the consumer in this country know that the prices of LPG worldwide has [been] reduced, and that the consumers deserve that reduction. That's what the fight [is]. The two elephants are fighting, and you, the consumers, are being trampled. And so, our client has asked that we do this press briefing because they believe that it is their social duty to let the consumer know, and for the consumer to demand that they get the lower prices."

In a late evening release, Jose Trejo, the Controller of Supplies at the Belize Bureau of Standards, sent out a press release defending the actions of his office.

In his statement, he says, quote, "Based on the fact that the matters contained therein are currently live before a court of law, the Government and the Ministry responsible for Supplies Control will refrain from publicly engaging on any of the issues which touch and concern those live claims until the determination of those matters.

Kindly note that the Government of Belize, through the Ministry and by extension the Supplies Control Unit, recognizes the current economic challenges being faced by households and businesses and is prepared to ensure that lower prices are passed on to consumers when circumstances so warrant. As such, the Government of Belize assures that at all times it acts in the best interest of consumers and will continue to monitor and adjust prices in accordance with the laws of Belize." End quote.

Not to be left out of this ripe dispute, the PUP issued a release this evening, saying, quote, " What we absolutely cannot understand is how this government will attack the butane wholesalers â€" simply because these entities have made the decision to slash the price of butane to Belizeans during these times of economic hardship…. In these times of COVID-19, there is no room for political machinations and manipulation." End quote.

National Gas Company Ready

The National Gas Company, which is the public/private entity that will take over the importation of butane from those Central American Importers, is also speaking up in this wide open dispute. They aren't weighing in on the dispute between Government and the Central American importers. National Gas Company is instead assuring the public that they will continue their preparations to become Belize's only importer of butane. National Gas Company says, quote, "For its part, NGC will continue to prepare Belize's sovereign capacity to directly access world markets for Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), thereby strengthening Belize's self- sufficiency and preparedness for emergencies such as this. World market prices of petroleum products, including LPG acquired for sale in Belize, have fallen significantly - caused in part by the pandemic. This lower acquisition price should be passed on to the Belizean consumer by way of the regulatory procedures established for the LPG price setting."

Channel 7

Re: LPG Importers On the Offensive, National Gas Company Ready [Re: Marty] #541593
04/10/20 05:39 AM
04/10/20 05:39 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 71,941
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP
Two Sides Of The Butane Battle

Last night, we told you about the battle over butane between the Central American importers of butane on one hand, and the regulator, which is the Belize Bureau of Standards on the other.

The Central American companies, which import from Mexico - are playing to public sentiment by offering to lower prices - at a time when world oil prices are near to a two decade low.

But, the regulator forcefully intervened and rejected their unilateral decrease.

Speaking this morning in Orange Walk, the Leader of the opposition said this was a bad move:

Hon. John Briceno - Leader of the Opposition

"We're in a time of crisis, people don't have money, they are not working. Their little savings, they are using, they are using it up right now to buy food and I find it disappointing that the government would then actually threaten the LPG importers right now. People need help, I hope that the government would revisit that decision and that would allow the people from selling the LPG to be able to sell it a lower price."

And while Briceno played the popular political said of this very thorny dispute, there's a whole lot more to it. Last night, we showed the press conference that Audrey Matura on behalf of the 3 Central American Butane importers: Gas Tomza Limited, Southern Choice Butane, and Belize Western Energy Limited.

These 3 companies insist that they are just trying to be responsible corporate citizens by looking out for Belizeans during this difficult time.

But viewers will remember that this public relations pivot does not line up with the Barrow Government's recent characterization of these companies. Last year, the Government passed the National Liquified Petroleum Gas Project Law. With this law, a public-private company, known as the National Gas Company, has been given the exclusive authority to import LPG into the country. National Gas will basically take over the responsibility that these 3 importers played in the supply of butane to your homes. National Gas will import, and they will then issue supply tenders to distributing companies such as BWEL, Tomza, and Southern Choice Butane.

That way, the Government directly controls the importation of LPG, and it is envisioned as a consumer protection mechanism to prevent these companies from exerting the type of dominance and control that they currently have on the LPG market.

Then, in December of last year, the Government went back to the House to pass the Supplies Control Amendment Bill. This was to put a hard ceiling and floor on the price of cooking gas. They say that these very same Central American importers were engaging in predatory pricing where they dropped their prices below the acquisition costs to drive their local competition out of business.

So, as far as viewers are aware, these Central American companies aren't exactly the model corporate citizens they are claiming to be. For context, here are the comments that members of the Barrow Government made in the House of Representatives during the passage of these laws to get tough on these importers:

More on Channel 7

Re: LPG Importers On the Offensive, National Gas Company Ready [Re: Marty] #542141
05/05/20 04:54 AM
05/05/20 04:54 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 71,941
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Central American LPG Importers, Stopped At COA

One week ago, we told you how the Central American LPG companies: Gas Tomza, Southern Choice Butane, and Belize Western Energy Limited, lost their first court battle against the Barrow Administration. They are attempting to resist the Government-enforced change in the local market for cooking gas, which we call butane, but is known scientifically as Liquified Petroleum Gas, or LPG.

The LPG companies and their attorneys quickly filed an appeal, and during the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, the judges of the Court of Appeal heard from attorneys for both sides. We understand that the LPG companies offered several grounds of appeal.

From the perspective of the LPG companies, the Acting Chief Justice erred when she found that the balance of convenience is in favor of the government, and when she determined that damages would be an adequate remedy available to the appellants.

We understand that Matura's submissions included detailed information about how the business operations of the LPG companies would be disrupted if their import permits aren't renewed.

Crown Counsel Agassi Finnegan responded on behalf of the Government, and she offered counter-arguments to the points made by the LPG companies.

At around 9:30 on Wednesday night, the Court of Appeal delivered its decision via email. The judges dismissed the appeal from the Central American LPG companies. They also confirmed the ruling from the Acting Chief Justice. On Thursday, during the Ask the Experts Facebook Webcast, Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte briefly discussed the outcome.

Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General
"I know the media has been hounding me for an update on one issue. So, if I may just use the opportunity to say, yes, indeed. The Court of Appeal did rule last night [at] around 10 o'clock, which is an unusual time. There was an appeal by some LPG provider, Gas Tomza, and them. They wanted to force the Government to buy their butane. And the Court of Appeal upheld the position that the Government decides who it buys its butane from. You can't force the Government or the people to do what they don't want to do. So, the ruling did come down in favor of the Government. Gas Tomza and them, I think they're being represented by Audrey Matura and Molina, and the Government was represented by Miss Agassi Finnegan. So, If I'm not able to give an interview on that, that's what happened last night officially, because some people do not believe that a judgment was handed down at 10 at night. But, that was the case. We won the case, and we'll see now whether or not Miss Matura and Mr. Molina will try their luck at the Caribbean Court of Justice."

Audrey Matura, attorney for the Central American LPG companies, told us via telephone on Thursday that she is already preparing to seek leave to appeal this second judgment at the Caribbean Court of Justice. She also points out that the substantive case that her clients have brought against the Government is still pending, and she will be pursuing that matter in the Supreme Court for a full hearing in the near future.

Today, her clients issued a press release saying, quote, "April 30, 2020 was the last day we imported LPG. As mandated by the Government of Belize effective May 01, 2020 we have been blocked from importing LPG or butane gas into Belize," end quote.

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