More is at stake in the public spat between the National Gas Company and the Caribbean Nitrogen Company (CNC) than 400 jobs. The impasse is about the State dealing with disturbing practices in the petrochemical industry as a whole in the context of our scarce natural resources.
Certainly, it is not ideal for the Government to be publicly sparring with major industry players, particularly when there are jobs on the line. For there to be economic growth, private business interests must, within reason, be allowed to operate freely. A liberal market sets the stage for further investment and growth. Such an environment is not encouraged when the State attacks private interests. On the other hand, where the State has a direct stake in commercial ventures which could set precedents that may result in billions worth of losses, the Government has a duty to protect taxpayers.
The line must be drawn when it has become clear that there are unfair practices which threaten to distort the market to such an extent that it results in the Treasury losing significantly. Transfer pricing and tax avoidance are just two issues which the State has a responsibility to address.
When it comes to entities in industries directly connected with this country’s natural resources, the State has a particular duty to be vigilant and to ensure all stakeholders are acting not only in the interest of profit but also the interest of society at large. Investment is crucial when it comes to putting our natural resources to good use. But companies should not be able to exploit and exhaust the riches of our land. Nor should they be allowed to hold such resources hostage.
None of this is to ascribe any blame or apportion responsibility to CNC. Rather, this is to underline the duty of the Government to be vigilant in all matters relating to this latest dispute. That vigilance should continue moving forward. The impasse potentially has implications for our ability to fully enjoy the benefits of the very land we reside in.
It is hoped all parties will this week cease any action that is intended to play hard ball and could be interpreted as holding our citizens hostage, and return to the bargaining table without need for protracted arbitration processes which would lengthen the impasse. That will only result in all parties paying an even higher price.