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Liberalise gas distribution, says consumer association

The Consumer Association has called for the liberalisation of the gas distribution system, saying it would bring additional benefits to customers.

President Benny Borg Bonello said the association favoured any system that offered consumers a good deal and gave them peace of mind over gas provision.

When contacted, he said the Malta Resources Authority and the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA) should meet and discuss how gas should be distributed in future.

At the beginning of the year, the MCCAA was asked by an importer to investigate an agreement reached in 1992 with Enemalta’s Gas Division.

This gave 30 gas distributors in Malta and Gozo exclusive territory to sell their cylinders door-to-door and at fixed points, which is the system currently in force.

The authority is looking into whether this agreement breaches competition laws.

Mr Borg Bonello said this issue had been pending for far too long and the authorities needed to resolve the issue once and for all.

“This is the second year that consumers do not have peace of mind on whether they can buy gas over the festive period. This is not what consumers want. They want peace of mind that the service is there if and when they need it,” he said.

Mr Borg Bonello said the association did not want to go into the merits of whether the 1992 agreement was illegal or not because there was an investigation under way. However, a decision was required sooner rather than later as consumers cannot continue “suffering insecurity”.

Two weeks ago, gas distributors threatened to strike if the MCCAA did not conclude its investigation, saying their livelihood depended on the decision.

They are insisting the Government and two gas importers – Liquigas and Easygas – should continue to honour the agreement.

Last year, the distributors had again threatened to strike over proposed changes to the system.

Mr Borg Bonello said the authorities responsible for the sector must ensure that any liberalisation would not lead to price hikes, as had happened when the gas supply market was liberalised.

He said the authorities must also ensure any change should guarantee the existing gas distribution to all parts of Malta and Gozo.

If the consumer authority rules that the 1992 agreement is not compatible with the law, “consumers should not be made to pay for this either through price hikes or through their taxes”.

He was referring to any claim for compensation by the present fleet of gas distributors, who said they were expecting compensation similar to that given to bus drivers when the system was reformed.

Mr Borg Bonello said the MRA and the MCCAA should prepare a feasible plan on the distribution and supply of gas to ensurethe benefits of liberalisation, including lower prices, actually reached consumers.

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