Leave if You want but No Price Hikes, An­tigua PM tells Gas Com­pany Ru­bis

The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

Feel free to hit the road, Ru­bis! That’s the strong po­si­tion be­ing taken by out­spo­ken An­tigua and Bar­buda Prime Min­is­ter Gas­ton Browne amid threats by the Fren­chowned gas com­pany to shut down its op­er­a­tions on the is­land.

Ru­bis has been at odds with the gov­ern­ment since the Browne ad­min­is­tra­tion re­jected a move by the com­pany to in­crease its profit mar­gins.

“If we have in­vestors – so­called for­eign in­vestors – who are pur­su­ing their own profit mo­tives at the detri­ment of our peo­ple, then it is time for them to leave,” he said on the sta­te­owned ABS tele­vi­sion.

The Prime Min­is­ter ex­plained Ru­bis had made a pro­posal to in­crease its whole­sale fuel mar­gins in the past, but he re­fused to en­ter­tain the idea since it would af­fect con­sumers and other lo­cal busi­nesses.

“We recog­nise at the heart of this is­sue is the fact they have been push­ing my gov­ern­ment to in­crease the mar­gins, and clearly it will be un­ac­cept­able for us to al­low them to in­crease the mar­gins and then pass it on to con­sumers and in­crease petrol prices,” Browne added.

The com­pany is, how­ever, stand­ing its ground. Chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Ru­bis Caribbean, Mau­rico Ni­cholls, has ar­gued that mar­gins have been frozen in An­tigua and Bar­buda for the last 27 years and this was hurt­ing the com­pany’s bot­tom line.

“A busi­ness can­not sur­vive on mar­gins that are frozen for­ever where the cost of do­ing busi­ness is ris­ing ev­ery year,” he told the An­tigua Ob­server.

Adamant that the whole­sale mar­gins had not kept pace with in­fla­tion rates or the cur­rent mar­gins in neigh­bour­ing East­ern Caribbean coun­tries, Ni­cholls main­tains the com­pany’s de­mands were well jus­ti­fied.

“All we are ask­ing the gov­ern­ment, and have been ask­ing for years, is that the mar­gins are brought in line with the ac­cu­mu­lated in­fla­tion with the 27-year pe­riod and in line with av­er­age whole­sale mar­gins in the rest of the East­ern Caribbean coun­tries,” the CEO said.

The com­pany has since is­sued let­ters to gas sta­tion own­ers in­di­cat­ing it would not be re­new­ing their leases in the New Year.

One op­er­a­tor has filed a le­gal chal­lenge against Ru­bis to rene­go­ti­ate a con­tract.

Prime Min­is­ter of An­tigua and Bar­buda, Gas­ton Browne, said that it would be un­ac­cept­able for his gov­ern­ment to al­low the gas com­pany to in­crease mar­gins and then pass this on to con­sumers.

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