As Haitians go without fuel, 312,000 barrels sit off the coast awaiting payment


Haitians continued to search for gas Saturday as the Houston-based fuel reseller defended its decision to put five cargo ships filled with gasoline and diesel on “financial hold” in waters off Port-au-Prince.

Chris Scott, the chief financial officer of Novum, confirmed that the Bureau of Monetization of Programs and Development Aid, BMPAD, did make a partial payment, allowing the release of some fuel. But more than 60,000 barrels of gasoline and 260,000 barrels of diesel remain anchored off the Bay of Port-au-Prince, he said, as the company still awaits more than $35 million in overdue payments in order to discharge the pending volume. Neither Scott nor BMPAD director Ignace Saint-Fleur would say how much the government paid.

“We have made a lot of efforts to put certain amount of money ... to unblock the fuel,” Saint-Fleur told the Herald on Thursday.

Under a presidential decree issued by Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in January 2018, BMPAD is the only agency in Haiti that can import fuel in Haiti. The country’s private sector in recent days has called on the government to end the monopoly and allow the half-dozen or so fuel distributors to order fuel on their own on the open market.

“Novum has been supplying fuels to Haiti via BMPAD for more than four years with a good track record of payments,” Scott said in a press release sent to the Miami Herald. “This has enabled us to progressively increase credit to BMPAD to more than $70 million with 45 days payment terms. In recent months, regretfully the payment performance of BMPAD has deteriorated significantly.”

Not only has Novum’s credit limit been breached on many occasions, Scott said, payments have been delayed by as much as 105 days. This has limited its ability to supply fuel to other Caribbean nations.

Haiti’s fuel shortage crisis began last month, creating long lines at gas stations around the country and a new level of tensions. On Friday, as Moïse attempted to launch a high school athletic tournament. he was heckled as the audience chanted, “We don’t have electricity” and had to be escorted out, in fear for his security. Local press also reported that four people died in the town of Laschobas during a protest over the electricity shortage.

Moïse has made it a signature of his presidency to provide all of Haiti with continuous electricity before this summer. But as the fuel shortage entered its third week, some residents have gone at long as two weeks without power, leading to pitch-black streets in many parts of the country at night.

On Thursday, Saint-Fleur, the director of BMPAD, said fuel had been unloaded and that Haitians could expect the crisis to be resolved within 48 hours to 72 hours. However, on Saturday, Haitians were still complaining about the lack of fuel as stations had chains around pumps and were cordoned off with ropes .

Saint-Fleur acknowledged that nearly $80 million was owed to Novum but blamed the overdue payments on distributors not paying. Distributors have objected to BMPAD’s request that payments be made in U.S. dollars when they are doing business in the local currency, gourdes.

Scott said it was awarded a total of five cargoes of gasoline and diesel in the last tender offered by BMPAD and was given assurance that all payments would be made timely. Unfortunately, payments “continued to be significantly delayed,” forcing Novum to put the cargoes outside of the discharge port on hold, “ in some cases for more than 30 days.”

“We lament this whole situation,” Scott said. W”e are hopeful that the current financial difficulty in Haiti is resolved promptly so we can return to conventional cargo deliveries consistent with usual industry practice. “

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.