The rate increase for natural gas will not exceed 15 per cent, assured Minister with responsibility for Energy Senator Darcy Boyce today as he came under pressure from Opposition Senator Wilfred Abrahams to come clean with Barbadians.
During debate on the National Petroleum Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2017 in the Upper Chamber, Abrahams raised concern that the pending price hike “might be a low hanging fruit to try to get some more money in the coffers of the Government.
“I am afraid of a desperate Government who is in a cash grab situation,” Abrahams said.
The suggestion was however quickly rubbished by Boyce, who said Barbadians would not be subjected to any exorbitant increase.
Boyce was equally insistent that the NPC was not out to rake in massive profits on the backs of Barbadians.
“For the average household, the average NPC bill is now about $18 a month, $4.50 a week . . . . The rates for domestic customers are not expected to move by more than 15 per cent. In other words, it is not going to cost them much more than a dollar a week. So then these increases are not designed to make the NPC earn profits like they are the [Barbados] Light & Power Company or the telephone company. They are designed to make sure that the NPC can pay its way without being a burden on taxpayers.”
Abrahams had also charged that the minister had too much power in relation to controlling the cost of service, arguing that rates should be determined by the Fair Trading Commission.
Boyce countered that while the FTC would eventually set the rates, the process of having rate increases set by the FTC was not easily achieved. Therefore, Government was forced to take an immediate decision to hike the natural gas rates to offset a massive $4 million loss expected this year.
“We have to change the rates now,” Boyce insisted.
Abrahams told the Chamber that while he was not fundamentally opposed to the rate increase, the timing was off, arguing that too many Barbadians were suffering.
“If this supposedly caring Government listen to the cries of the people – people in Barbados are hurting, they are sucking salt, in many cases they just keeping their heads above water. Is this the right time to talk about rate increases?”
He also argued that Barbadians should be clearly informed about the current state of the reserves and how long after the rate increase is given, will areas currently without natural gas be able to receive the service.
Government Senator Jepter Ince said the decision to hike the rates was in the country’s best interest, adding that the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) had nothing to be ashamed of.
While blasting the former Barbados Labour Party administration for failing to restructure the NPC while it was in power, Ince maintained that the “DLP is not afraid, nor shall we be ashamed of making decisions that are important for the people of Barbados.
“It is not time to sit back and wait for something to happen. It is time that we take action. If left alone, ask ourselves the question, ‘what would happen to NPC?”
He also assured residents in St John, St Joseph and St Lucy that Government would find a solution to supply natural gas to their communities.