The Supplies Control Bill stirred a fiery debate in the House of Representatives this past Wednesday. The bill seeks to establish a floor for the price of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) and to enforce stiffer penalties for companies that do not comply. This bill comes as a result of an LPG price war that has been waged by foreign companies on local retailers. The butane that Belize currently uses is imported into the country from three companies, all of whom are run by one family and, thus, they have the monopoly. It is speculated that in retaliation for the establishment of a National Gas Company, these importers have lowered their LPG prices in order to force local retailers out of business. Leader for Government Business, Godwin Hulse, explained the need for this bill in today’s Senate Meeting.
Godwin Hulse, Senator: “Section four of the principal act is amended by deleting the words “six months to a fine not exceeding $1,000” and replacing it with the words “12 months or to a fine not exceeding $25,000″ so it’s nothing about butane you know, it’s nothing about butane. It’s the fines in the Supply Control Act to force all business persons, wholesalers and retailers to comply with a price that the government sets for a commodity. I can tell you there’s a hell of a rice price for years. I was one of those persons who never supported a floor particularly for manufactured goods here but the ceiling was never complied with, never. The good senator just said the ceiling for sugar is not being complied with, sugar that they sell them for more than the the price it should retail for right or wrong ? So you have a weapon to now take those culprits and I hope it’s not the marking marketing board like you say, then you take them to task, say the minister gave you permission under law because people should comply that’s the purpose of this.”
While Hulse’s explanation may make things seem black and white, Senator Michele Chebat does not buy it. He believes this bill is an attack on the “little man.”
Michele Chebat, Senator: “This piece of legislation reeks of protectionism. This piece of legislation is to support the National Liquefied Petroleum Gas Company which comes into effect in January of 2020. This piece of legislation Mr.President is not to protect small retailers as it is couched.”
Aldo Salazar, Senator: “The criticism of this bill coming from the other side is simply put that you’re not being able to see past your nose because of politics. This has nothing to do with National Gas Company, this has nothing to do with protecting National Gas, absolutely nothing. That is derived from a lack of understanding of what we just did recently with National Gas. National Gas is a move to secure the importation of LPG into this country. All LPG comes into this country from Central America, from Honduras. It’s landed in Honduras, it’s brought up through Central America, brought up through Guatemala and brought in through the western border by a monopoly, we’ve been through this. It’s brought in by a monopoly, the same monopoly that’s now trying to threaten our supply of gas again.”
Ahsley Rocke, Senator: “The whole intention seems to be to close down the small man, to take away the benefit from him in his little company and then the fact that there’s a new animal that is coming on stream I think it was incumbent then to protect the small investors from maybe the ‘big boys’ as somebody would say. So I think the bill is not necessarily for the past monopoly or even the one to come but the bill is primarily for the small man who is trying to make a business everyday.”
Herbert Panton, Senator: “The cartel when government said to them “This is the price.” the cartel says “well you either give us what you want or we will not import, it’s very simple.” I remember many sleepless nights me being deprived of the consortium of my wife because she has to be spending ten, eleven o’clock negotiating with this cartel.”
The lowering of the prices by the foreign importers is known as “predatory prices.”