Easygas 'to defy' order for return of cylinders
Easygas is to defy a resources authority order to return a hoard of nearly 2,000 gas cylinders to rival company Liquigas and is planning to take the matter to the constitutional court.
Easygas claims the MRA acted beyond its powers and breached its right to a fair hearing when it imposed a unilateral order to return cylinders to its rival, Liquigas.
The Malta Resources Authority should stop threatening Easygas with a €25,000 fine if it does not give back the cylinders and instead respect the basic rules of natural justice by allowing it to defend its position, company lawyer Georg Sapiano told The Times yesterday.
"The MRA is bound, like everybody else, with the obligation to respect the rules of natural justice and should have at least granted Easygas a hearing before proceeding with this heavy-handed manner my clients will defy. This matter will end up in the constitutional court," he said.
Dr Sapiano complained that the authority had not bothered waiting for the outcome of a pending civil court case to determine ownership of the cylinders in its possession but instead " slapped Easygas" with a threat of an administrative fine. In a judicial letter filed by the MRA last week, Easygas was warned of a € 25,000 fine if it failed to return 1,937 cylinders belonging to Liquigas, plus a daily €600 fine until it complied.
The ultimatum, which passed yesterday, was given in an official letter filed in the civil court, after Easygas had rejected an initial request to return the cylinders.
Liquigas claims Easygas has a hoard of more than 6,000 of its cylinders in its compound but MRA inspectors only found 1,937.
Easygas has replied to the MRA letter, explaining why it believed the decision to order it to return the cylinders was beyond the MRA's powers as it was taken without giving it the opportunity to reply to the allegations. It said it had not been given a fair hearing, in breach of its fundamental human rights.
The Times has learnt that Easygas had appealed the decision and the appeal is now before the MRA's appeals board.
The problem has its origins in January when Easygas entered the market and started to accept empty yellow, green and brown Liquigas cylinders in exchange for its new grey ones.
"In so doing, Easygas showed its sensitivity towards the concerns as well as the rights of consumers. Whereas Liquigas offered a paltry €5, Easygas recognised that unless otherwise declared by a court, the owner of the cylinder was the person possessing it. That person was respected and given fair compensation by Easygas because the law assumes that you are the owner of a cylinder if you hold it in your possession," he said.
Dr Sapiano also questioned the truth of Liquigas's claim that it could not operate because of the 1,937 cylinders Easygas had in its possession. He said that when Liquigas began operating in 2008, its balance sheet attributed € 14 million to cylinder stock.
"This translates into 600,000 cylinders so how can it be that less than 2,000 cylinders are blocking the supply of the service?" he asked.
MRA ordered Easygas to return the cylinders to its competitor with immediate effect but Dr Sapiano strongly feels that this was " arrogance and abusive administrative action reminiscent of other governments... not this one".
When contacted, a spokesman for the MRA said the authority had no further comments to make on the matter.