Select committee created to examine fuel sector

| 29/02/2024 | 43 Comments

(CNS): Planning Minister Jay Ebanks will be chairing a new committee that was established in parliament this week to look at the cost of fuel in the Cayman Islands as a result of years of erratic and, more often than not, increasing fuel costs at the sockets at home and at the pumps. Successive governments have failed to control volatile prices or understand how fuel companies set those prices, even after the creation of the Utility Regulation and Competition Office (OfReg) some seven years ago.

Ebanks, who has appointed himself chair of the Fuel Review Select Committee, presented the government motion to parliament Tuesday evening, following a successful private member’s motion filed by Chris Saunders last October.

The minister has also appointed ministers Kenneth Bryan, Dwayne Seymour and Kathy Ebanks-Wilks, government backbenchers McKeeva Bush and Bernie Bush, and opposition members Chris Saunders and Barbara Conolly. When House Speaker Alden McLaughlin noted the imbalance on the committee, Ebanks said they had reached out to more opposition members, but they were conflicted.

Although the minister did not outline the reasons for the conflict, it is understood that several members of the opposition hold shares in CUC, gas companies or a fuel station. Some government members are also believed to have connections to the sector, such as holding CUC shares

Ebanks said the committee would be tasked with a comprehensive examination of the factors driving fuel prices and developing strategies to mitigate the strain on the economy and people. The goal is to level the playing field, lower the cost and stabilise fuel prices, he said, adding that for too long, no one has looked at what can be done.

“Why are we just sitting here fiddling with ourselves” and not doing anything about this critical problem, the minister asked.

Ebanks told MPs that those involved in the sector would be called in and questioned to find out what was going on, and the committee would pass the information on to OfReg to act on.

However, the regulator’s original remit was to do this work and reveal how fuel prices are actually calculated, but to date, OfReg has failed to deliver. The regulator, which is supposed to be independent, has been heavily criticised for being far too close to the entities that it is supposed to oversee.

Ebanks said it was time to hold people accountable, and every single person in Cayman wanted the elected members to fix the fuel problem.

“We need to figure it out. The people elect us… to help make their lives a lot better,” he said. “Why is it that we can’t figure out how to lower the cost that goes into our electricity into CUC? Why is it that we are not looking for alternatives? Why are we not looking for a cheaper source of fuel?”

The minister said that when questioned, those involved would spend hours giving reasons why they couldn’t do it, but nothing was said about why they should. He said he was not in the business of protecting “none of them”, but he was in the business of protecting ordinary Caymanians. “No one has said to these guys: Enough is enough. This is what you are going to have to do.”

Ebanks said that those invested in this area did not want “to see the monopoly changed”, but there were too many people who “benefit from the fuel sector” who lived happily while the people perished. He said that when the committee’s work is finished, he would have a solution to put forward.

Saunders, who was the originator of the idea, pointed out that to date, the Cayman legislature has not utilised its power of oversight through select committees, as he compared the use of this tool here to that of the US and UK, where politicians have numerous committees with the power to investigate the private sector. Saunders urged the parliament here to also use this power more.

Speaking about the motion, he said the Public Accounts Committee had previously called in witnesses from the fuel suppliers, but they had failed to explain around $2.50 of the significant markup on a gallon other than to say Cayman was expensive — a clear indication that something was awry.

Saunders explained that through his calculations, he was of the view that the problem relating to gas prices is not CUC marking up the fuel factor or the retail gas stations hiking their profit margins; the problem was the price the wholesale suppliers are charging them and their markup.

He said the creation of the committee would give lawmakers a chance “to finish the conversation” that was started in the Public Accounts Committee a few years ago. “The public need to find where that $2.50 cents per gallon that is unexplained went,” he added.

While the House voted in favour of the motion, which stated that some meetings of the committee will be public, no date had been set for when it will first meet at the end of the debate. However, the parliament confirmed, Friday, that the first meeting was to take place that afternoon in the committee room to discuss a schedule and terms of reference.

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Category: Business, Politics, Private Sector Oversight, utilities

Comments (43)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    one thing all governments are good at, creating multiple committees/jobs out of thin air to tackle the same problem but never finding a solution.

  2. Two Cents says:

    I had hoped for great things from then- Dep Premier Chris Saunders when he was given constitutional responsibility for OfReg in 2021 after having served as Dep Chair of the PAC during the July 2020 hearings on OfReg. He should have had a wealth of knowledge of tye issues.
    I never heard a peep in his 2 years as the Minister responsible. Not surprising, he’s now leading the charge. The public should ask “Why now?”

  3. Anonymous says:

    When will Caymanians wake up and stop listening to promises that isn’t fulfilled. This is a CAMPAIGN scam from the crew.

  4. Anonymous says:

    We should at least be applauding the honourable minister for openly admitting what we’ve all long suspected, – that they just sit there and fiddle with themselves. 🎻

    • Anthony says:

      Thats Right Jay. I applaud you. continue to investigate these suppliers. i seen prices at the gas station go up, as much as 3 times in one week.

  5. A regular “Joe” says:

    So, are we going to be “refunded” or somehow compensated for what we have overpaid for decades, or is it just another “money wasted” effort to play “caring for others”.
    Beware gas suppliers, more pocket lining on the horizon …
    Probably the guy who said, “they are just getting rid of the low and mid classes, making this jurisdiction a “high end only” paradise”, was right.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Priced out of Paradise

  7. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Munroe, have you ever done an island-wide inspection to confirm if all pumps are calibrated in Imperial gallons, as they should be?? Remember I wrote to you about my own experience of a particular station pumping in US gallons? When I challenged it, I received an excuse and a refund – but not a denial.

    Remember, Mr. Munroe??

  8. Anonymous says:

    first order of buisness.
    who is picking up the platters from fosters.

    what wellies got on the menu today.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Plans are being planned, at the plannery.

  10. Anonymous says:

    What an internal conflict there must be being a spouse or other to some of these idiots. Do you resign to never reading the news or rightfully call them complete ‘f***wits when they return home and walk through the door

  11. Anonymous says:

    Wowzers! A Committee!!! Why didn’t we think of this until now! Everything is going to be okay now.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not really.
      The collective IQ of Jay, Kenneth, Bernie, Saunders, Seymour and Mac would not match that of a banana quit. So how can we expect them to deal with a problem that requires intellect, knowledge of how to do sums, and education, to even understand it..?
      Making the right noises is politically expedient, and the additional “stipend” for attending lunch meetings even better.

  12. Steve says:

    A next OfReg to scrape the treasury; why not give us the money as a subsidy which they pay OfReg and this new agency.

    Fuel is big business on this island.. look how many there are in close proximity

  13. Anonymous says:

    There are a very limited number of cost input column headers to understand. If OfReg don’t know what those are by now, close that agency. Consumers get ripped a margin at each point along the chain of custody, starting at wholesale refinery cost of goods, through shipping transport, trucking, dilution with additives, water, all the way to the pump nozzle. SOL has buried several rips before it gets to the retailers to add their running costs and end consumer margins.

    The Sustainability Czar needs to work on ensuring transportation of the volume of affordable Chinese EVs that could be on our roads. They can’t get here fast enough. Build the long-promised bike lanes, making them congruous and safe. Legislate penalties for obstructing those corridors. Demand that CUC release more solar energy capacity. Legislate 2 or more business parking lot spaces to public recharging access, build it out, and transition this tiny island into the future. This too could be “limitless” DC solar.

  14. Anonymous says:

    What a sad indictment of the fuel regulator OfReg that our esteemed Ministers and MPs have to try and do the work that OfReg employees supposedly regulatory professionals are paid to do!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Two ‘OFFREGS” operating in tandem. It would have made more sense to get rid of the dormant one that was created by KT as a slush fund club for his friends. We could have saved $Millions on salaries, vehicles, office space, etc. Hope this new ‘OFFREG’ isn’t paid like the existing useless ‘OFFREG’. What a mess. Hope this Committee understand that the Fuel Companies operating here, much, much more bigger than CI Government.

  16. Anonymous says:

    give me import price and a calculator…
    i’ll have your answer in 25 mins.
    from an expat with basic understanding of maths.

  17. Anonymous says:

    wow…jay ebanks…getting caught with his pants down twice this week. maybe UPM should ban the opposition from asking awkward questions?
    caymanians elect these people so you have no-one else to blame but yourselves.
    and to make things worse, you also prevent the most qualified and successful people on island from being elected…

  18. DuppySays says:

    So, you know how we’re all dealing with those traffic fumes and worrying about the environment? Well, it’s time for a change, and I’m talking about a real, concrete plan.

    Our government dude, Jay, just hinted at reviewing gas prices, which is cool, but let’s not forget the bigger problem – our fuel is kind of dirty. It’s messing with our air, especially around places like Walkers Road where the kiddos are going to school.

    Here’s the thing: we need to set some quality standards for the fuel we’re bringing in. I’m talking about making sure it’s got high cetane/octane and low emissions. Sounds a bit techy, but it basically means cleaner, better fuel that won’t mess with our health and the planet.

    And get this, we’ve got to push for a law that says all our fuel suppliers should switch to cleaner options by 2030. It’s not some random date; it gives us enough time to swap out our old trucks and cars for more eco-friendly ones. Think of it as a win-win – we get healthier air, and our rides are kinder to the environment.

    Now, about CUC – they’re talking about bringing in this explosive methane LNG thing on fossil-fueled carriers over the next seven years. I get it, they’re trying, but are they really using the modern fuel that can help fix the mess? I see those smoke stacks every day, and I can’t help but wonder if the 25-year plan they’re talking about is moving fast enough.

    Let’s not get fooled by greenwashing. We need real action. Big shoutout to Jay for supporting this – we need more folks pushing for changes that actually make a difference.

    Time to clean up our act, Cayman Islands! 💚🌍

    • Anonymous says:

      Local retailers are not only allowed to source fuel from anywhere, including US embargoed countries, they can add whatever cutting additives, and detergents they like up to a generous amount of quality leeway. The Fuel Inspectorate briefly published a report years ago with photos of the “fuel” samples being served into customer property. Visually, there was wide variation on colour and translucency. They redacted the names of the retailers to protect them. Aviation fuel has strict standards, everything else is caveat emptor. If that isn’t reason enough to go electric, I don’t know what is.

  19. Anonymous says:

    A Select Committee that includes the Four Donkeys of the Acropolis, namely Jay, Kenneth, Jon Jon, and Bernie should be given far loftier goals. I would imagine they will have solved this problem before their first meeting is convened.

    • Anonymous says:

      With all of these experts on the select committee we should have all of the remedies within a week’s time providing they can understand each other’s gibberish. Will the results be written in Chinese, English or Jon-jon’s language? Asking for my three year old grandson.

      • Anonymous says:

        Please do not forget the illustrious Bernie with his irrelevant interjection in the meeting of the “select” Committee; comments about what “uncle so and so” said. If uncle “so and so” even exist he is the only one who has any knowledge of him. Then of course they will “order in” and then they will stand around the table and gabble gabble with their mouths stuffed with food, after which they will depart. The following week they will enquire if anyone took notes.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I hope they get some smart people to unravel the process because it looks like company A charges company B a markup who charges company C even more of a markup, but company C owns company A…

  21. Anonymous says:

    A good start would be to look at the cost per liter or gallon at the retail pump in and around the US port(s) of departure for the ships that arrive here with the gas.

    See if there’s a difference between those and our gas stations prices.

    if so, ask for a breakdown based on freight charges, office admin, customs, etc.

    this isnt rocket science

    and then do the Grocery stores.
    and telecoms (we are so subsidizing all the other caribbean nations)
    and the banks. FFS, someone stop these banks fleecing us with interbank transfer charges, inter-account charges, compliance charges, exchange rate .8/2/4
    and on
    and on
    And CIREBA. Where is the oversight committee on CIREBA?

  22. Anonymous says:

    So we now have a committee to do the job that is the job of what a regulatory authority was created for, – in short everybody knows that everybody else is useless but ensuring they all remain useless together.

  23. Anonymous says:

    A committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but who, as a group, can meet and decide that nothing can be done.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Ebanks, who has appointed himself chair of the Fuel Review Select Committee…….The minister has also appointed ministers Kenneth Bryan, Dwayne Seymour and Kathy Ebanks-Wilks, government backbenchers McKeeva Bush and Bernie Bush, and opposition members Chris Saunders and Barbara Conolly.

    After 3 meetings per month for 14 months, and 10,000 patties consumed, Minster Jay will pull out a roll of dental floss to explain string theory, and state that his grand uncle who worked as bosun for National Bulk Carriers discovered Higgs bosun 50 years ago, before going on to declare that Cayman has reached energy independence under his leadership.

    This of course is the standard result achieved by every Select Committee appointed over the last 50 years.

  25. Anonymous says:

    🤣😂🤣😂🤣😂, Jay’s gonna fix the fuel price problem just like the public transport problem 🤣🤣😂🤣. Are these jackasses getting paid extra for being on this committee? Jay and his hand dredged crew couldn’t screw in a light bulb together so hoping for a lightbulb solution with this committee is a pipe dream. We’ll be told six months in that “there is really no right answer” just like Jay’s transport review comment. And there is some conflicting interest with some opposition member(s), is this only Mr. Wight or are there others conflicted?

    What’s obvious to some is that Cayman’s retail fuel prices are not consistent with North American price decreases. And even though bunkered fuel stocks should at least provide some lag on fuel price increases as compared with the source continent they don’t. Local fuel prices increase almost immediately upon the news of a Brent Crude price increase. So it’s obvious the local suppliers are profiteering on the situation. Conversely, when there’s news of a price decrease in North America it takes weeks or months for a price decrease here but generally it never decreases.

    The Ombudsman’s office need to have this suspect committee under an electron microscope, otherwise there is a serious potential for more shady dealing, more opaqueness, no favourable outcome for consumers.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I predict their answer is subsidies.

  27. Anonymous says:

    A new committee that won’t do a thing to address the real issues at hand. This government is the WORST government of all time.

  28. Anonymous says:

    And as is tradition, someone will WhatsApp their MP or have a quiet word in the service club meeting or lodge meeting to nip this in the bud. Just like the consumer protection law.

  29. Anonymous says:

    ‘The minister has also appointed ministers Kenneth Bryan, Dwayne Seymour and Kathy Ebanks-Wilks, government backbenchers McKeeva Bush and Bernie Bush, and opposition members Chris Saunders and Barbara Conolly.’ LMAO And one in court today..April Fools Day every day!

  30. Anonymous says:

    Another committee to look into what is already known…


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