As pressure mounts on Government to reduce its contentious National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), one Opposition Member of Parliament is calling on the Freundel Stuart administration to rollback the increase in the excise tax on fuel.
In his May 30 Budget presentation Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler announced that the excise tax on gasoline would increase by 25 cents per litre from 74 cents to 99 cents, and by 24 cents on diesel from 20 cents to 44 cents, in an effort to raise $50 million in revenue.
As a result, gas is now to be sold at $3.05 cents per litre and diesel $2.25 per litre.
However, St George South representative Dwight Sutherland pointed out today that when the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration demitted office in 2008, the excise tax on gasoline was 36 cents per litre and on diesel was 20 cents per litre, despite the price of oil soaring at US$100 per barrel.
Speaking during debate on amendments to the Offshore Petroleum Act in Parliament, Sutherland therefore argued that it was unfair for Government to subject residents to an increase at a time when the price of oil was about half what it was in 2008.
“Yes I would hear from the Minister of Finance about the whole subsidy that we [BLP] would have done, but I make no apology for the subsidy because our subsidy was to protect businesses in this country and also the people in this country,” Sutherland said.
“The citizens are suffering as a result of Government’s policy within the energy sector. They are paying a very high price at the pump for gasoline and diesel and we ought to do something about it. The same way I say to the member for St Michael North West [Sinckler] to rethink the National Social Responsibility Levy, the time is right for the Government to rethink that increase of 24 cents on the excise tax for gasoline.
“It is not fair to the citizens of this country,” Sutherland contended, while suggesting that the state-run Barbados National Oil Company (BNOC) should make it known to the Ministry of Finance that the current prices were too high.
He further argued that any losses which the BNOC would have occurred as a result of a high subsidy were “recovered way before this excise tax reached 94 cents per litre”.
He also pointed out that along with the increase in excise on fuels, businesses will be dealt a hard blow with the implementation of the two per cent levy on foreign exchange transactions, as well as the increase in the NSRL from two to ten per cent, which were also among measures announced in the recent Budget with a view to raising over $500 million in revenue.
However, there has been a huge public outcry against the measures with the island’s major trade unions currently staging a ‘go slow’ in protest of the higher taxes from which they have been demanding relief.
As the unions await word from the Prime Minister on the matter, Sutherland today called on Stuart to give an explanation for the energy increase, saying residents simply “cannot afford to be paying such high prices for diesel and gasoline at a time like this.
“It is impacting businesses, it is impacting the average man in the street, it is impacting our transportation sector,” the Opposition spokesman said.
He argued that instead of hiking fuel prices, Government should “move swiftly” to increase the number of electric vehicles on the island.