by Emmanuel Joseph
There is a cry across the building industry in Barbados for Government to open up the cement supply market and save consumers from further suffering in their pockets. Investigations by Barbados TODAY this afternoon discovered that construction companies and wholesalers and retailers of cement, are upset at the lack of competition on the local market.
A number of stakeholders agreed that their “hands were tied” in that they had no “real” options when it came passing on to consumers an annual price hike imposed on the cement which the sole supplier — the Arawak Cement Company — sells.
“If everything was opened up and we had the opportunity to import, we would be able to get cement at a more competitive price. It is difficult to import … other markets need to be opened up. It is the consumer who suffers,” argued Hugh Blades, Chief Executive Officer of Marshall Trading, one of the leading building suppliers in Barbados.
“It is not only in cement that we cannot compete; it is in other building materials too. You cannot import cement unless you get a licence … and there is a 60 per cent bound rate. The local cement is protected,” added Blades.
“We were supposed to have similar tariffs throughout the Caribbean on things such as steel doors, but that hasn’t been Gazetted yet. That was about three years ago.”
He pointed out that Barbados was already an expensive place to do business, especially with manufacturing of certain products being labour intensive.
Noting that the main source of cement in Barbados was controlled, Milton Inniss, a director of the construction company, Moorjani Caribbean Limited, also called on the Freundel Stuart Administration to make the market competitive, which would give consumers more price options.
“If we could bring in cement more competitively, it would be welcomed. But with the current monopolistic situation that can’t happen,” Inniss added.
He said he could not understand why cement made in Barbados was sold cheaper in St. Lucia. He told this newspaper, although his company was forced to reduce staff “a little”, he was holding onto the existing compliment and struggle along.
“It’s very difficult these days. We are doing a lot of tendering for jobs, but they are very few and far between.”
The manager of two related companies which are among the largest purchasers of cement from the Arawak also said he believed it would be cheaper for Barbados to import the commodity, possibly from places such as Trinidad.
Graham Proverbs of Ready-Mix Limited and Ready-Block Limited said the Checker Hall, St. Lucy plant “jacked up” its prices annually, and with little notice to his company. He said the plant had carried up the price of cement each January of the past two years, and explained that his companies tried to absorb the cost in one year, but could not do so in the next, especially when the high costs of utilities and other overheads were factored in.
He too said he favoured a competitive market.
Paul Lewis, a director of Jada Builders Incorporated also echoed an earlier sentiment to construction magnate, Sir Charles Williams, for the Arawak Cement Company to review its operations in Barbados, with a view to reducing its “high” operations costs which are passed onto consumers.
Lewis spoke too of the need for a competitive price for cement, advising that cheaper sources existed in markets such as Asia or Mexico. The Jada director said he would also like the bound rate on local cement reduced so they would be freed of the stranglehold of having to buy only from the Arawak.
He lamented that the St. Lucy plant sent up its prices annually by between five per cent and 10 per cent. [email protected]
by Emmanuel Joseph