Nearly a week after Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler publicly complained that the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) was “taking way too long” to issue its ruling on the proposed US$100 million sale of the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited (BNTCL) to the Kiffin Simpson-led SOL Group, FTC Chairman Jefferson Cumberbatch today announced that the regulator will be meeting next Thursday to make a final determination on the matter.
“The Fair Trading Commission wishes to advise the public, in light of the recent official consternation expressed about the seeming tardiness of its decision in the matter, that the application for the proposed acquisition of the [BNTCL], a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Barbados National Oil Company Limited (BNOCL) by BNTCL Holdings Limited (a wholly-owned subsidiary of SOL St Lucia Limited), is in the final stages of review,” Cumberbatch said in a one-page statement issued today in which he sought to assure that the regulator was not purposely stalling the multi-million deal.
He explained that the FTC was actually still in the process of completing its analysis of the substantive information, which has been submitted by the applicants and interested third parties, while pointing out that at various stages of the investigation, the parties had requested extensions of different lengths for submission of required information.
The FTC chairman explained that in all cases, the Commission had granted those requests.
“Additionally, the Commission on October 27, 2017, heard further submissions from SOL and another party at an in-camera oral hearing that has been requested under Section 26 (2) of the Fair Trading Commission Act, Cap 326B of the Laws of Barbados,” Cumberbatch revealed, while promising that the regulatory body would make public its final ruling in the matter after its scheduled meeting on November 23.
In its preliminary ruling, dated June 14 this year, the FTC rejected a bid by the SOL Group to buy outright, BNTCL.
In prohibiting the proposed transaction, the Commission had deemed portions of SOL’s January 31, 2017 application unlawful, particularly a controversial 15-year moratorium on the construction of new terminal facilities and new import duties.
Further, the FTC had rejected SOL’s call for a 32 per cent pre-sale increase in throughput fees at the Fairy Valley storage site which costs, it said, would likely be passed on to consumers.
However, the sale of the oil company is seen as critical to this island’s economic recovery, given the current worrying level of foreign reserves, which stood at $549.7 million or eight weeks import cover at the end of September.
With Government also faced with an over $340 million deficit and a national debt of 144 per cent of gross national product, Sinckler last week accused the FTC of stalling the island’s economic recovery.
“It is simply taking way too long [for the FTC to issue a ruling] in my opinion and frustrating all parties involved and potentially jeopardizing our economic plans,” he told the annual conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados last Friday at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, without making any reference to the legal challenge that has been brought by SOL’s competitor Rubis to the proposed sale.
When he delivered his latest review of the economy last month, Acting Central Bank Governor Cleviston Haynes had also expressed concern about the pace at which Government’s divestment programme, which includes the BNTCL transaction, was going.