Consumer rights advocate Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt is calling on the Fair Trading Commission (FTC), as well as Government, to come clean on the pending sale of the Barbados National Oil Company Ltd (BNTCL) to the Sir Kyffin Simpson-led petrol giant Sol.
Gibbs-Taitt, the director general of the Barbados Consumers Research Organization, was one of the first to object to the proposed deal after it was made public more than a year ago.
The FTC has since issued a four-page ruling last November in which it said it found the proposed US$100 million deal to be anticompetitive and therefore would only approve the transaction if certain issues were addressed.
Gibbs-Taitt said he was puzzled that the FTC had not given any updates since issuing the ruling, with Sol indicating that it was still interested in pursuing the deal, and Government still counting on the proceeds from that transaction.
While demanding greater transparency, he warned that the regulatory agency must carry out its duties independently.
“We do not have what we consider to be a transparent Government. We haven’t had that for a long time and maybe that is something the electorate will take note of and see that it doesn’t happen again like that,” he said, with general elections due here by early June following the automatic dissolution of Parliament on March 6.
“We should be transparent in the way we do things, but I notice that things are happening, sometimes three years ago, and only now we are getting to know some of the facts. It is not good enough!” he insisted.
“What seems to be happening is that there are people behind the scenes trying to remedy a bad application, but I am not seeing an application coming before the Fair Trading Commission that people like myself can object to.
“All we are getting are comments from people who are suggesting they are still pursuing something, but I don’t know what they are pursuing. The FTC is not saying what correspondence they are getting from other parties, they are not telling the public what the position is as it stands right now, the only position we know is the one that they made at the time of declining the offer,” Gibbs-Taitt complained.
However, when contacted, the FTC said it had no further updates on the issue.
Gibbs-Taitt argued that although Government was adamant it needed the proceeds from the sale to help shore up the foreign reserves, it would take a lot more to make a difference to the reserves, which plunged to just $410 million or 6.6 weeks of import cover at the end of December last year.
“Our foreign exchange needs a bigger impetus than US$100 million. I honestly don’t know what it will do. I don’t know if it will assist for a month but it is not a long-term benefit. Besides, when you sell a company that is benefiting the country at large, whatever money you get from that is a one-off payment, you don’t benefit from that anymore. So it is not making sense to the average person I would say, that that can be a good sale. Again maybe the electorate might have something to say about that too,” he said.
The consumer rights advocate said he was also not pleased that the FTC seemed to be “failing miserably” in stopping companies from breaking the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, adding that he had been bringing the practice to the agency’s attention since 2002.
“The FTC is totally inadequate to deal with this business. At least the people who are there running the FTC do not know what they are doing,” he charged.
“You can’t tell me that every time somebody complains about an advertisement, you write to the company and warn them and then two months later they go back doing the same thing again. What is the point of just tapping them on the wrist? The FTC has laws that can do something about people who break the laws, but nothing is happening, and it is a big concern of mine.
“The time is coming when we are going to have to take legal action against the FTC for failing in its duties as far as the breaches that occur almost on a daily basis on the Consumer Protection Act. I hope that is a warning that will be heeded sooner rather than later,” he said.