ST. JOHN’S, Antigua — Feel free to hit the road, Rubis! That’s the strong position being taken by outspoken Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne amid threats by the French-owned gas company to shut down its operations on the island.
Rubis has been at odds with the government since the Browne administration rejected a move by the company to increase its profit margins.
“If we have investors, so-called foreign investors, who are pursuing their own profit motives at the detriment of our people, then it is time for them to leave,” he said on the state-owned ABS television.
The Prime Minister said Rubis had made a proposal to increase its wholesale fuel margins in the past, but he refused to entertain the idea since it would affect consumers and other local businesses.
“We recognize at the heart of this issue is the fact they have been pushing my government to increase the margins, and clearly it will be unacceptable for us to allow them to increase the margins and then pass it on to consumers and increase petrol prices,” Browne said.
The company, however, is standing its ground. Chief executive officer of Rubis Caribbean Maurico Nicholls has argued that margins have been frozen in Antigua and Barbuda for the past 27 years and that it is hurting the company’s bottom line.
“A business cannot survive on margins that are frozen forever where the cost of doing business is rising every year,” he told the Antigua Observer.
Adamant that the wholesale margins had not kept pace with inflation rates or the current margins in neighboring Eastern Caribbean countries, Nicholls maintains the company’s demands are well justified.
“All we are asking the government and have been asking for years is that the margins are brought in line with the accumulated inflation with the 27-year period and in line with average wholesale margins in the rest of the Eastern Caribbean countries,” the CEO said.
The company has since issued letters to gas station owners indicating it would not be renewing their leases in the New Year.
One operator has filed a legal challenge against Rubis to renegotiate a contract.
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