An appeal has been lodged in the High Court against the Fair Trading Commission’s (FTC) decision, issued on November 28, 2017, on the proposed merger between the Kyffin Simpson-led Sol Group and the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited (BNTCL).
FTC’s Chairman Jefferson Cumberbatch made the disclosure on Thursday as he addressed participants at the start of the Commission’s annual lecture discussion entitled: Protecting Consumers in the Digital Era, hosted at Accra Beach Resort and Spa.
Without giving full details, Cumberbatch noted that the appeal was filed under Section 36 of the Fair Competition Act. However, he said the Commission, convinced of the accuracy of its decision, intended to stoutly resist the action by SOL.
“The matter was first heard on February 28 and the parties are expected to return to court on May 8,” Cumberbatch said.
It was also noted that in the realm of Fair Competition, this merger represented “the most critical and arguably the most publicly anticipated document delivered by the Commission for 2017”. However, the Chairman said it was “regrettable” that the decision was viewed by some in purely partisan political terms.
Cumberbatch also registered his disappointment with the handling of the ruling by sections of the media saying: “Indeed, a premature, uninformed and inaccurate disclosure of the decision by some sections of the press evoked defamatory imputations of incompetence and worse on the part of the Commission by some members of the public, who were clearly disappointed with the incorrect disclosure.”
Earlier this week, consumer rights advocate Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt had appealed to the FTC, as well as Government, to come clean on the pending sale of BNTCL to 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.
However, 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.
And 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.
Without making reference to Gibbs-Taitt’s comments, Cumberbatch, while alluding to the theme of the lecture, stressed it was a topic that ought to be of significant contemporary relevance to all. He remarked that it was pivotal to the work of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Division, which had embarked on a number of investigations, as well as concluded some legal undertakings over the past year.
Reference was also made to information contained in the FTC’s 2017 Report in relation to Standards of Services. Acknowledging that last year, the Commission had reviewed and amended these for the period 2014-2017, for Cable & Wireless (Barbados) Limited (C&W) and the Barbados Light & Power Company Limited (BL&P), the attorney-at-law pointed out that “the Standards of Service Decisions for the period 2018-2020 came into force from January this year for both entities.”
Among the standards alluded to were C&W’s Reconnection after Disconnection for Non-Payment and Billing Accuracy. The Chairman stated that the target time for Reconnection after Disconnection was reduced from eight working hours to six and a new standard, Billing Accuracy, had been introduced. This, he explained, dealt with the granting of compensation to individual customers for billing errors. Furthermore, he said, C&W must now also initiate a standard complaints procedure.
With respect to BL&P, it was noted that changes had been made to standards related to Customers’ Services and Fault Repair – Distribution System, which now entailed a target period of restoration of service within eight hours instead of the previously stipulated 12 hours.
Reconnection also has a new standard requiring that a customer be reconnected within six working hours of his or her request. The Timely Payment of Compensation was also updated, and, according to the FTC Chairman, this stipulates that the Company must credit a customer’s account within two months’ acceptance of a customer-initiated claim for compensation.