Tue | Mar 19, 2019

Mark Wignall | How can Rubis consider this a fair deal?

Published:Sunday | January 27, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Rubis Energy Plant

For more than two and a half decades, the Chinese economy grew at average annual rates of 10 per cent. Students of economics standing by and plotting the curves and the global and political intersections would know that at that rate of amassing new capital, that new money had to find a comfortable and strategic place to be employed as the new century began.

And so in a country comfortable with ‘empire’ it is not at all surprising that China is presently in a new push for global influence by supplanting America’s waning power in the west with hard cash, big infrastructural projects and involvement of its small to medium sized commercial enterprises in key parts of the real economy.

It seems that big oil companies operating in Jamaica are in no way disinterested in these new arrangements. In the law of political and economic demand and supply, Jamaica is in no economic position to refuse the Chinese ‘gifts with future consequences’ and social encroachment and, the involvement of European based oil companies in having a stranglehold on the sales of petrol in this country.

For reasons best known to me, I ditched purchasing gas at Rubis for a while then switched to Total. Then I realized it really did not matter. I was on a chase for good gas at the best prices but I did not want to drive to hell 20 miles away just to get a taste of heaven a few miles up the road.

The Rubis at Manor Park suited me both in proximity, price and satisfactory service.

Then a letter to The Gleaner last Thursday informed me that the operators of that gas station had been given marching orders by Rubis. Another gas station at Water Lane was also mentioned as one that Rubis had seen fit to retake from the operators.

Service stations are able to deliver the best prices based on location, volume sales and good customer service. That seemed to have been the situation at the Rubis at the Water Lane location, which used to operate late in the nights and unimpeded by criminality in one of the socially roughest areas of this country. Downtown Kingston.

In the original contract with Mr. Phillip Chong at the beginning of 2014, one part of it states, ‘The Dealer will operate the service station on behalf of Rubis procedures and policies. Rubis may, at its sole option and absolute discretion, amend its procedures and policies by adding to, subtracting from and/or revising the matters stated therein in whatever way Rubis deems fit.’

In all of the subheadings of the contract the term, ‘… sole option and absolute discretion’ is the theme which governs. Surely someone like Mr. Chong would have known that as long as he lived up to all of the conditions of the contract there would be no need for Rubis to invoke that ‘sole option and absolute discretion’ and send Mr. Chong packing.

SOLID HANDLE AND RUSTY BLADE

Rubis began operating in Jamaica in 2013 after buying out Shell, a name we were quite used to. Ever since Rubis began operating here, it seems that the basic corporate outlook of the company would never find any congruence with the Jamaican market and the socio political culture.

Rubis refused to recognize the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (JGRA), which operated unimpeded prior to the arrival of Rubis. In 2016, the JGRA asked then energy minister Andrew Wheatley to intervene in a dispute between that association and Rubis.

In September of 2018, Chong was turfed out by Rubis purely on the basis that the terms of the contract gave Rubis ‘sole option and absolute discretion’ in just about all matters, not the least of which was terminating the contract without any major or minor breach by Chong.

Jamaica is precariously poised in its added push for growth, to the point that our government and people are increasingly finding out that our demand and hunger for new FDI is making us attractive fodder for corporate abuse by multinationals.

The relationship between the Chinese workers and the Jamaicans they intersect with is at this time quite poor and in many instances exist only with controlled tension. Many believe we have to grin and bear it because we have no choice. In fact, that has never been the approach of the Jamaican workers and, certainly not the sort of thing that service station dealers will accept from big oil companies.

Poor Prime Minister Holness, who has saddled himself with the minister of energy portfolio. Could he develop that strength to call a meeting of the big oil boys and say to them that they are very welcome here but that at this time in 2019, we are not quite in the mood for new European conquest.

In an article carried in the Jamaica Observer in December 2018, the following was written, ‘Current head of the JGRA, Gregory Chung, is claiming that Chong, who RUBiS issued with a letter of site termination for the Water Lane Service Station in downtown Kingston on October 31, is being victimised for not having supported RUBiS during the 2016 “bad gas” saga.’

Prime Minister Holness need not be in a bind by harbouring fears of Rubis pulling out, should he make demands of fair-play and natural justice.

Rubis has no plans to pull up stumps here, PM, so I would suggest to Mr. Holness that he finds his energy minister cap, and speed over to Rubis and the rest and lay more than a dollop of sovereignty on them and his own social responsibility to his people even as he balances it with sucking up to FDIs.

You are the man, Mr. PM. The little boys are way over there.

BULL BAY WAS LONG SIMMERING

In the early part of last week, Khalilah Reynolds and Dennis Brooks from Nationwide conducted an excellent interview with Professor Basil Wilson and a retired police officer from NYPD.

Point of fact. New York City, with population in excess of eight million, was still concerned that it recorded less than 300 murders two years ago, significantly and almost exponentially down from the 1,814 murders recorded in 1980.

The Nationwide interview asked the key question. What is it Jamaica can learn from the NYPD, have it applied here and see similar successes?

My own answers went back to late last year when I had a conversation with Desmond Richards, journalist and a past member of the JCF with 10 years of service.

‘Years ago, I traveled to New York and the first thing that struck me was the presence of police cars. On almost every intersection there was a police car. And you know, police presence is the first line in deterrence against crime. Where in the world is Jamaica to find those kinds of resources to create that deterrence,’ he said.

Last week he said, ‘New York has the resources. We don't. Remember last year I told you about very young boys displaced by SOEs in other areas parading the streets near to Cane River, rifles in hand and stopping cars while looking for gunmen belonging to rival gangs?

‘What is taking place now in Bull Bay is the fuller manifestation of that. In the squatter settlement of Taylor Land and at 10 and 11 Miles, there are a set of boys who are out of control.’

‘But why are you not supporting the continuation of the SOE?’ I asked.

‘I have lived through every SOE in Jamaica, apart from the West Kingston one of the early 1960s. In normal times, the police brutalise the poorest. In SOEs, they step it up. I will never support it because I was once a policeman and know the behaviour.’

‘So, what must be done about Bull Bay?’ I asked.

‘It's too late,’ he said. ‘The horse already gone through the gate.’

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