The battle over the local supply of liquified Petroleum Gas is continuing this week, and one of the former Central American importers is reporting tonight that it has no more cooking gas to sell to its customers.
Southern Choice Butane, formerly known as Zeta Gas, Gas Tomza, and Belize Western Energy Limited are currently in Court against the Barrow Administration for the creation of a new regime, which unseated them as importers of LPG into Belize. They say that the government-enforced change in the market is unjust, and a constitutional challenge to that change is pending in the Supreme Court.
Last week, these companies came out publicly to say that because they no longer had permission to import cooking gas, they can't guarantee an uninterrupted supply of butane for customers who need to fill up. When we checked with the Belize Bureau of Standards and the National Gas Company, which now has the exclusive right to import LPG, they assured that the former importers and National Gas had enough inventory - over 2 million gallons of LPG - to last for up to 2 months.
Well, Southern Choice declared in a press release today that they have had to close all their branches countrywide. According to the company, they've sold out all of the cooking gas that they imported just before their licenses expired. The result of that closure is that their 50 employees may be out jobs, and their customers are now in a lurch.
This afternoon, their attorney Audrey Matura, granted us a press briefing via video conference to make the point that whatever shortages customers are feeling right now, is not their fault. She asserted that the fault lies with the Government, its regulator, and the National Gas Company, which she has dubbed the "National Monopoly Company". Here's how she explained the issues in the industry from the perspective of her clients:
Audrey Matura - Attorney For CA Butane Companies
"Well, one of the major concerns we have is that to date 12 days later despite us writing the national monopoly company and the Belize Business Bureau of Standards - they still have not given us what will be the sale price of LPG in this country, at least from the first inaugural supply from the monopoly company and the monopoly company is still saying in their most recent letter that they still don't have a commercial operating date. So we're in this situation where the supply that my clients have is running out, they've been writing now 11-12 days today saying can you tell us when we can order and what will be the price and how soon you can deliver and all kinds of round a round answers and no direct answers. So, up to today we don't have that. It's rather unfortunate because we also wrote the BBS asking them well assist us."
"So what happens with your clients, their operations, the customers they serve?"
"I don't know if you saw the press release we sent out, but in the press release one of our clients ZETA already having problems that they have to close down their plants because they do not have any LPG to supply to their clients. It's not that they don't want to supply. That is why from 11-12 days ago we've been writing and saying tell us, it is urgent."
"Can you assure us that your clients are not intentionally creating a shortage by withholding the sales of their stocks?"
"They are not withholding. I answered you the question, I gave you a perfect example. Why would ZETA just close down if they don't have supply? So the government has to wait until the other 2 and all the others they close down before they say we will supply?"
We have contacted Jose Trejo, the Controller of Supplies at the Belize Bureau of Standards, and he told us that his department has already made presentations to Cabinet as to what the regulated price of LPG should be under the new regime. He said that Cabinet has to make a decision, and he was of the belief that this hold up would be resolved quickly.
We also contacted Dr. Gilbert Canton, the managing director of National Gas, and he also gave us a similar account. He said that his company is ready to start distributing the 1.4 million gallons of LPG that his company has in stocks. According to Dr. Canton, the Government has to give permission for their operations to start.