Industry and Commerce Ministry could break up monopoly
The recent hike in construction sand prices has sparked special interest from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and the island’s top regulatory body, the Fair Trading Commission (FTC).
Barbados’ sole sand mining quarry has reportedly almost doubled the price of sand – a decision that has left distributors, truckers and players in the construction industry pondering what next.
Minister Donville Inniss met today with officials from the FTC and the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources in an effort to discuss the recent price increases at the St Andrew Walkers Sand quarry and to come up with possible solutions.
Inniss told Barbados TODAY the recent developments had brought to the fore a number of issues that needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency, including the role of the regulatory bodies in facilitating such developments.
“There is also the need to undertake a complete review of Barbados’ construction industry on its inputs and costs, including the arrangements of supply of other quarrying products and cement in particular,” said Inniss.
Based on the conversations with officials and some of the truckers and distributors, as well as “brief conversation” with owners of the quarry, he said though, there were other issues.
“A couple of the issues raised today would revolve around the monopolistic nature of the current quarry. Government’s policy on mining and quarrying in Barbados, the general view of the impact of price increases of sand on the construction industry,” he said.
“One thing we agreed to is that the Fair Trading Commission, in its usual independent manner, exercise all authority invested in them under the fair competition act, to analyze all pertinent information and to determine if there are valid reasons for this increase in price. That is the role of the FTC in this matter at this time,” said Inniss.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Commerce will undertake, as a matter of urgency, said Inniss, an examination as to the likely impact of the sand price increases on the construction industry.
“The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources will update their policy on quarrying in Barbados and the intended legislation. Meanwhile, one must appreciate that while there seems to be urgency to find a resolution, enunciated by distributors in particular, one must equally appreciate the importance of being fair and balanced in such matters,” added Inniss.
He said while Government would not “intrude in private enterprise in a reckless manner”, it would assist in carefully gathering all relevant information “and then proceed to make an informed decision”.
Inniss further suggested that there might be a break up of the monopoly in the industry.
“It is the harsh reality we have to face which is that sand used in the building industry here in Barbados is a rather finite product and therefore we need to undertake a review of the quantities available and this may indeed lead to consideration in the medium term to the importation of sand into Barbados,” he said.
He was quick to add, however: “I wish to stress that the importation of sand into Barbados is not necessarily the solution to this matter but that if it does have to take place that is a matter for the private sector”.
He said he would ensure his ministry continued to work with all stakeholders on the issue while seeking to ensure fairness to everyone involved and keeping in mind the rights of the consumers.
Inniss is expected to meet with owners of the company on Friday.