While their efforts were apparently dampened by rain, their desire to have their message heard would not be extinguished by the persistent showers Wednesday morning.
Around two dozen protestors marched from Elgin Avenue to the steps of the Legislative Assembly to show they were “fed up with high gas prices”.
Leading the charge was George Ebanks, who pushed a wheelbarrow loaded with a box full of petitions signed by people expressing frustration at the cost of fuel in the Cayman Islands. Following behind were others bearing placards, some of which read “The people demand (sic) lower gas prices”, “Better fuel/gas prices affords us all a better quality of life”.
The protest started more than an hour late because of the weather, but once it got going, it gained momentum. A few people joined along the route. Among them was Humberto (only first name given). “I just joined because I think it was a fair cause,” he said.
When asked why he was part of the movement, Jean-Eric Smith, one of the organisers, said: “It’s blatant. The cost of living is too high.” Another marcher, Chester Watler, said: “We want lower gas prices, and lower gas prices brings lower prices on everything – all the goods that we consume.”
After arriving at the Legislative Assembly, the protesters were met by Premier Alden McLaughlin and Planning & Infrastructure Minister Kurt Tibbetts.
“This is meant to be a show of support for you all and we want you to know that you have our full support as you embark on getting some price relief on that one commodity that we cannot do without,” Mr Ebanks told them, as he handed the Premier the box that was said to contain nearly 14,000 signatures.
In accepting the petitions, Mr McLaughlin thanked the marchers. “We are delighted for the support in what we are trying to do. Not everyone agrees that we should be pushing the fuel companies in this way but we believe we have to,” he told the crowd.
“We have tried to get the fuel companies to address the concerns that the community have about the difference, the huge difference in what we pay for fuel here and what is paid in places like the United States.”
Mr McLaughlin said the first step along that path was the Dangerous Substances Handling and Storage (Amendment) Bill during this sitting of the Legislative Assembly to “force the fuel companies to disclose to government what they are actually paying for fuel so we are then able to determine what margins they are making, what profit they are making on the sale.
“Based on the findings from that, we will consider what other steps we have to take. As we’ve said before, if it does require us to introduce price controls with respect to fuel, that’s not something that we are going to shrink from.”
Government expects that with the legislative changes, the Public Utilities Commission will be operational by early next year.
“At that point in time, we will then have the Chief Petroleum Inspector and the Petroleum Inspectorate under the Public Utilities Commission and then we will have the umbrella legislation to do whatever is necessary. Between now and then, what we’re doing now will make sure that our determination will be based on facts,” said Mr Tibbetts.
“We’ve got to get to the point that we know that before we can say to them ‘you’re charging too much’. We can say that all we want now and they can say that they have what they call proprietary information and we would never know the difference.”
The Planning & Infrastructure Minister was asked by the leader of the protest if the legislation give the government the power to at least deliver some price relief, at least in the short term. He said this would provide immediate relief once the law takes effect, noting if the distributors are found to be providing false information, there are fines such as $20,000 or a year in jail or both.
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