Gas talks explode
"It's downhill from here" as negotiations with Rubis and Government may not end well
Negotiation between the Government of Dominica and Rubis West Indies Limited may have just taken a turn for the worst. What was initially expected to be a three months' suspension of service now looks like the company may be having a seat at the dinner table with many other failed businesses that have shut their doors.
Like the countless others who have unwillingly joined within the past two decades, Rubis points to the loss of financial earnings for five years as the reason for possible closure.
But a seemingly nonchalant prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit said that if the company that distributes petroleum, aviation fuels, LPG and lubricants, leaves our shores, his government will use funds from the Treasury of Dominica to import petroleum products.
Within the past months, Rubis has written to its suppliers and employees informing them that come September 16, 2021, it would suspend fuel sales in Dominica to stop the economic loss while continuing to negotiate with the Government for improved local regulation for the sale of its fuel products.
According to the company, the current regulated fuel prices in Dominica mandated by the Ministry of Trade require that it sells fuel below its acquisition cost, which allegedly has resulted in losses for every gallon of fuel Rubis sold.
On the other side of the negotiating table, Skerrit says that he believes the company is seeking to extort money from the country.
"There is a saying that a man is still a man even if he has one pant. Not because people think that we may not be rich, they can think that they can speak to us in any way that they want and disrespect us," he proclaimed this past Friday on state-owned DBS radio when he was questioned on the status of negotiations between the two parties.
Prime Minister Skerrit announced that he was copied to a letter sent by the company to the minister of trade Ian Douglas, and unsatisfied with the content of the letter, he responded and asked that Rubis had withdrawn.
"All I will say to the people of Dominica is that nobody's going to threaten Dominica. Nobody's gonna seek to extort from Dominica and nobody's gonna put a gun to Dominica. You could be the most powerful nation in the world, you can be the most powerful institution in the world, you could be the least powerful nation in the world, we are independent, sovereign people and people have to respect us," he said.
According to the finance minister, the petroleum company has been asking for a price increase, but he argues that given the price build-up mechanism that determines the final price at the pump as well as the wholesale price, his government is not paying the company less than what they pay for the gas, as they allege.
"Now, the question which Dominica must ask themselves is, we have Rubis, we have NP, we have West Indies Oils, we have Petro Caribe. The only company that is behaving in the way that they are behaving is Rubis," Skerrit said, further adding, "we did the math in terms of what Rubis is asking, they are asking for $1.76 more per gallon on the price of petrol."
"Out of good faith", he said the government has offered an increase in the in-transit fee as well and an additional offer of 0.23 cents while awaiting the audited statement from the company.
Because Dominica and other countries continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, Skerrit said he has also requested that the company accept the offer for 12 months and return to the negotiating table thereafter "but it appears that Rubis wants all of this done at one time and it is not going to happen," he said.
Skerrit speculated that the various letters sent out by the company may have been political pressure on his government, but such will not happen.
"Negotiation doesn't mean that if you don't get what you want then you take a gun and put it to my head and tell me if you don't give it to me I am going to shoot you. Well shoot me, but you're not going to force the government's hand and believe that you can use all sorts of extortionist approaches to get to the government," the Dominica Labour Party (DLP)leader said.
According to Skerrit, if the public wants to pay the additional $1.76 price increase which the company is seeking, then he will end negotiations and accept, but until then his duty and obligation are to ensure that the Dominican people are protected while establishing policies and systems to ensure that an investor who invests money in Dominica can make a profit and can survive.
After Skerrit's statement, THE SUN contacted a member of Rubis's management team who stated that based on the PM's response, it's downhill from here.
"I can tell you this much, from where I'm sitting it looks inevitable that the company will be shutting down for good," our source said. "The sad thing is many are now going to be out of a job, so while he's going back and forth with the regional heads, he needs to understand that they have many other branches in the region and pulling out from Dominica which makes them no money will only affect Dominica, no one else."
The company, which operates in 12 other Caribbean islands, in 2011, acquired the assets of Texaco in Dominica which, at the time, was owned and operated by Chevron in the Eastern Caribbean.
Rubis has a network of nine service stations in Dominica, six of which have been rebranded to Rubis. These are Portsmouth Service Station, A. C Shillingford Service Station, Castle Comfort Service Station, Jimmit Service Station, Marigot Service Station, and Calibishie Service Station.