Miller: Nat’l Energy Corp. By September
By Candia Dames
21st July 2005
Minister of Trade and Industry Leslie Miller yesterday again dismissed claims that he did not have the full support of Cabinet in signing the regional PetroCaribe oil agreement and indicated that he was focused on seeing to it that a National Energy Corporation (NEC) is up and running by September.
The NEC is essential to the government’s plan to ensure that cheaper fuel reaches consumers through the PetroCaribe initiative, he reiterated.
The Minister said that before the NEC can get off the ground, the government must first receive a report from the fuel usage committee it established several months ago. The committee is co-chaired by Vincent Coleby, a long-time petroleum industry executive, and Independent Member of Parliament for St. Margaret Pierre Dupuch.
Minister Miller said he plans to meet today with the committee, which is looking into all aspects of PetroCaribe and fuel usage in the country.
Mr. Dupuch hinted in an interview with The Bahama Journal yesterday that the committee intends to fully back the PetroCaribe initiative, clearing the way for the NEC to be established.
"This would mean for The Bahamas extremely low oil prices," he said. "It would translate into lower electricity costs and it could translate into lower costs for the people on the road driving cars."
Minister Miller said, "I would expect that the National Energy Corporation would be incorporated as early as September to enable BEC to be the first recipient of getting cheaper fuel from Venezuela through PDVSA (that country’s national energy company) and Curacao, which is the same entity that provides the same importers in The Bahamas with 85 percent of their fuel as we speak."
He claimed again that BEC would immediately realize an annual savings of $10 million to $15 million.
The Minister said despite fears, the new arrangement should not force the three major oil companies in The Bahamas – Shell, Esso, and Texaco – to face any dramatic changes.
"What will happen because we are lifting the fuel ourselves, we would then on-sell the fuel to Shell, Esso and Texaco," he explained. "[We’ll] give everyone a reasonable margin upon which to work in and the Bahamian people will see the benefits."
According to Minister Miller, the National Energy Corporation would not be an elaborate set-up and could easily be managed by about four people from his Ministry.
"It’s just the movement of paper," he said. "This will not be a regular government corporation. It could in fact be just a National Energy Agency."
Asked how Venezuela will benefit from the agreement, Minister Miller said Venezuela is not going out on a limb in this deal.
"It is simply trying to assist the countries in this region by lowering the cost of fuel to their citizens. It’s no different from what other countries have done and continue to do."
He was also asked to respond to ongoing speculation that he signed the PetroCaribe agreement without the full backing of the Cabinet.
Minister Miller suggested that this was all part of a conspiracy to keep poor Bahamians from progressing.
"Generally, the people who are against this project are basically the same people who have been against any progressive action that was taken by any relevant government since the PLP came to power in 1967 to work on behalf of the majority of the Bahamian people, especially the small man," he said.
"They’ve been against majority rule; they’ve been against independence - and they will be against anything that benefits the majority of Bahamians and I pay no attention to them whatsoever."
In signing the PetroCaribe agreement, The Bahamas and other signatories acknowledged that, "Within the context of an unfair economic order inherited from colonialism, and imposed by the wealthy developed - and rich countries, the current global energy-related trends marked by the enormous waste of consumer societies, by the reduced availability of production capacities and by speculation leading to the rise in hydrocarbon prices, have all continuously exerted a negative impact on both the economic performance of, and the social conditions in the countries of the Caribbean."
The agreement also states that the countries of the Caribbean need to possess reliable sources of energy and must be assured that prices will not represent an obstacle to their development.
It says that PetroCaribe is a body aimed at facilitating the development of energy policies and plans for the integration of the nations of the Caribbean through the sovereign use of natural energy resources to directly benefit their peoples.
Following the signing of the agreement, some local executives of the three major oil companies in The Bahamas said that they would like to see more consultation on the whole plan as they did not have specifics on how PetroCaribe will actually work.
Minister Miller said that consultation would swing into high gear after he receives the report of the fuel usage committee.