April 25, 2012
A local gas station operator for more than 20 years has lost a court case against Texaco and must vacate the premises this summer.
Raymond Claridge, the owner of Claridge Service Centre on Mackey and Madeira Street, caught the country's attention in October of last year when Texaco abruptly locked up his pumps. The oil and gas company shut the operation down on the day after his license was due for renewal.
Claridge claimed he has never been given an actual reason for eviction. He also said the company was targeting him due to his complaints about poor maintenance by Texaco and his visibility during a proposed fuel strike last summer.
However, a judge in the Court of Appeal determined that the nature of the contract entitled Texaco to the eviction.
Philip Kemp, the president of the Bahamas Petroleum Retailers Association (BPRA), called the ruling a "huge blow" to the rights of Bahamian gas retailers.
"We were very surprised over the ruling," he told Guardian Business. "We thought for sure there was enough cause there, that sufficient equity was built up in the location over many years. We don't have laws in this country to support these renters. It's a landlord society. We don't have measures in place to protect people."
Ryan Bain, district sales manager for Texaco, did not return messages for comment.
Kemp said Claridge deserved better treatment and compensation for more than two decades of service. He believes a precedent was made through the ruling, whereby corporations can "kick people out after many years of being in a location".
The BPRA chief expressed a measure of concern as RUBIS, the French multinational energy company, officially takes over assets in The Bahamas. In November, RUBIS purchased Chevron's fuel, marketing and aviation business in The Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks & Caicos Islands for an undisclosed amount. Vitogaz, a wholly-owned subsidiary of RUBIS, takes over the official management of the assets.
Chevron regained exclusive rights to the Texaco brand back in 2006.
Kemp told Guardian Business the decision in the court case could send a message to RUBIS, that it's acceptable to "cherry pick" operators in the country that don't play ball.
"You should have the right to question a contract. That's the tragedy of the whole thing. They can cherry pick. We were hoping to avoid this. We cannot see how these judges went with Texaco on this ruling," he added.
As for Claridge, he plans on moving into the farming and development business. He also expressed uncertainty in regards to the RUBIS takeover.
"They might feel they want a different approach," he said. "The other retailers might have the same problem. I'll be far better off. There is no financial future in it all."
Last year, discontent over low gas margins and limited profitably under current agreements placed the industry on the brink of a full-scale strike. In October, retailers were eventually given 10-cent gallon increase in the retail price of gas, and a 15-cent rise in the retail price of diesel.
Kemp from the BPRA insisted the rise was a good start, "but not what we asked for".
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