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
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 lawÃ¢â‚¬¦ 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."
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 Ã¢â‚¬" simply because these entities have
made the decision to slash the price of butane to Belizeans during
these times of economic hardshipÃ¢â‚¬¦. In these times of COVID-19,
there is no room for political machinations and manipulation."
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."