Parliamentary representative for St James Central Kerrie Symmonds is challenging claims by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that a rate hike would result in more communities having access to natural gas.
Opening debate on the National Petroleum Corporation Amendment Bill in the House of Assembly Friday morning, Stuart expressed concern that the natural gas was only reaching about 25 per cent of the domestic market and was not available to residents in rural St Lucy, St Joseph and St John.
The Prime Minister told the Lower House that in addition the fact that the price of natural gas had remained unchanged for many years, Government had also taken into consideration the corporation’s cash flow difficulties, as well as its current inability to expand its reach across the island in approving the planned rate increase.
However, in a fiery response, the Member of Parliament for St James Central questioned how an increase in rates would equate to an increase in capacity.
“The Prime Minister has asked us to venture into the theatre of the absurd. He is saying there is a greater opportunity once we now carry up the rates to service that 75 per cent of the population, which is now not supplied on natural gas,” Symmonds said, warning, “It don’t work so”.
“It cant work so,” the Opposition legislator stressed, prompting Stuart to rise on a point of order, stating that he was only relaying the advice given to him by the experts.
However, Symmonds shot back with an even more brutal criticism, saying, “Therein lies the error of his [the Prime Minister’s] ways and it shows me that he is sufficiently lodged within the realm of the absurd that he would raise himself on his hind legs and repeat it.
“The fact of the matter is that the issue cannot be just what he was advised, the issue must be what is credible within the realm of the advice,” Symmonds stressed.
He also questioned: “Where does the capacity to carry the increase service come from?,” while cautioning that “you can’t wave a magic wand and create the gas that you do not now have.
“Honourable Prime Minister has a duty as the chairman of Cabinet to penetrate this matter with a greater degree of forensic analysis than just to parrot and repeat that which he said has been said to him,” Symmonds maintained.
He also argued that the Freundel Stuart administration had abandoned the offshore drilling programme which could have unearthed new wells and reduced the country’s dependence on imported natural gas at a time when it was seeking to shore up its fast depleting foreign reserves, which fell below 12 weeks of imports to less than $700 million last December.
“The fact of the matter is that the [state run] Barbados National Oil Company has engaged in the frolic of importing natural gas. So even as we tell this country that we are looking for new ways to reduce the levels of foreign exchange expenditure, the truth is that the National Petroleum Corporation (NPC) has become a net importer of natural gas,” Symmonds told Parliament.
He also charged that under Stuart’s stewardship over the past eight years, no drilling had taken place in the pursuit of new wells and new sources of natural gas in Barbados.