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EDITORIAL: Who will foot gas fallout?

Barbados Nation

EDITORIAL: Who will foot gas fallout?

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WE ARE PLEASED that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, the substantive Minister of Energy, has finally outlined an plan to be acted on immediately by the Barbados National Oil Company Limited (BNOCL) and the National Petroleum Corporation (NPC) to remedy the natural gas shortage plaguing the west and south coasts mainly for the last four weeks.

Stuart’s intervention suggests the highest priority is being given to solving this situation.

All that is left is for a swift implementation of the plan, which entails the importation of gas, the retrofitting of the gas plant facility to receive product by truck, and the purchase of trucks and associated equipment to transport gas from the well head to the plant.

We sincerely hope the implementation deficit that has plagued this administration does not occur as Barbados’ reputation as a high-quality tourism destination with excellence in fine dining has already suffered immeasurably.

Though welcoming the plan, we cannot accept Stuart’s excuse that both the BNOCL and NPC recognised since 2004 the local supply would become depleted reasonably early, but “identifying a mechanism for the importation of natural gas” was not yet successful.

Given the stakes involved, as is currently being played out, this should have been a priority.

Our focus, though, is who will compensate hotels and restaurants for the hundreds of thousands of dollars they reportedly lost because they could not provide expected services to their guests.

In the case of hotels primarily powered by natural gas, they are giving discounts and doing other ‘make goods’ to appease disappointed guests who cannot get a warm water bath when they want, have to wait an extended time for a meal, and can’t get their clothes cleaned efficiently as laundries are affected.

As for the all-inclusive hotels where guests paid for their food and beverage upfront, hoteliers are providing guests with vouchers to other places to dine at great expense.

Then there are the restaurants who continue to turn back guests or limit their numbers to accommodate their stoves operating with low pressure.

President of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association, Sunil Chatrani, said he was told that over Christmas some diners had to wait two hours for their meal, and at one restaurant with capacity for 200 guests, it was forced to keep their numbers down to 140 on Christmas Eve – this was at $400 a plate – a loss of $24 000.

Apart from tourism, significant losses have also been incurred by a number of industrial users of natural gas like WIBISCO, who reported losing about 50 per cent of production capacity.

As this biscuit manufacturer, with 250 people on its payroll, is primarily an export driven business, this gas shortage threatens their viability if they cannot meet their orders.

As part of the short-term measures announced by Stuart, industrial users will have to switch immediately to alternative fuels, but there is a cost attached to this which has to be met.

This question of compensation is therefore one that the BNOCL, NPC, and ultimately the Government, cannot ignore.