BELIZE CITY, Wed. June 30, 2021– Four former Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) importers have brought a constitutional lawsuit against the Government of Belize in an effort to regain their place in a market allegedly monopolized by the government-backed National Gas Company Limited (NGC).
Audrey Matura is the attorney for the four claimants, which are Belize Western Energy, Western Gas Company, Gas Tomza, and Southern Choice Butane.
She asserts that her client’s constitutional rights were breached by the Barrow administration’s enactment of legislation that designated NGC the sole provider of butane in Belize — a commodity used by most households across the country.
“We sued. My clients brought a constitutional claim against the Government because it was the Government that did the secretive definitive agreement that was later discovered after they then passed the legislation for the NGC to operate as a monopoly, and since then have been passing different piece of legislations that the Belizean public doesn’t seem to be aware that keeps ensuring that the monopoly becomes very wealthy and the Belizean people are paying for it. Now, our constitutional claim is that our clients have not been treated equally before the law, because a special law was made for another group,” Matura stated.
She said that instead of being given an equal opportunity under the law to engage in the sale of butane in a competitive environment, her clients were excluded under the new law put in place by the previous government.
These four companies which are bringing the lawsuit are, as mentioned, former importers of butane, and the parent companies of some of these enterprises are outside Belize. Nonetheless, Matura is asserting that their right to work in the trade of importing butane was violated when the government created the NGC. She added that their constitutional right to work was also violated.
“We are seeking that they find that their constitutional rights were breached and that as a result of that breach they have suffered damages, financial damages. But also, we want that they find that once their constitutional rights were breached that those legislations that created the monopoly be quashed and they be allowed to import,” stated Matura.
The desired result — the end game that these companies are aiming for— is thus a reversion of the butane market to the way it was before the creation of the new company.
Matura believes that she has presented to the court substantial reasons for such a market reversion. She said that she has presented a plethora of evidence on behalf of her clients, while the defendants have submitted merely affidavits with very limited substance.
“Basically what we are showing is that we are showing a history that our clients were here over thirty years ago.” Matura said to local media.
“It is a lot of documentation, but basically we are just trying to prove to the court that these people had these rights under the Constitution and the way we establish that they have these rights is because we show that they were already enjoying those rights. There were things already there, and the way we are saying it has been breached is because when you created the monopoly, they are no longer able to do these acts, they are no longer to do business as they did. We have been able to present this evidence. NGC is the sole importer,” stated Matura.
She further argued that market competition, and as a result, the best possible prices for consumers, are not being realized due to the monopolization of the supply of this important commodity.
“Who brings in the product determines the price. There is no way, two ways about that. If my four clients were bringing their products, they would have brought it in at different prices and could have competed. What the government has done and refused to explain to us is that they have refused to define what is wholesale; they say the prices are fixed, but the S.I. doesn’t say it is fixed. They keep raising prices, but they don’t tell us on what basis these price increases are, because many times the international prices are not increased, so I don’t know how they can say NGC is not a part of the market. You cannot buy from anyone else except NGC,” Matura said.