Leader of the Opposition, Bishop Joseph Atherley and Minister of Transport, Works and Maintenance William Duguid, battled in Parliament today over the amount of money Barbadians were actually paying in the new tax on fuel that has replaced the annual road tax on vehicles.
Bishop Atherley first took issue with a statement made by Ryan Straughn earlier, where he referred to the amount of tax per litre as “nickels and dimes”. Calling Straughn’s words “unfortunate”, he said, “It is really not a nickel and dime matter. If you pass on Broad Street and the bus terminals as I sometimes do, those who are involved in the business of commercial transport will tell you it is not a nickel and dime matter. They take it seriously and are upset about these charges.”
The Member of Parliament for St Michael West said “Government removed the 12 cents per litre National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) from fuel, but imposed a 40 cent tax instead”. This comment evoked the ire of Duguid who responded “the tax is actually 27 cents, and bear in mind we removed the NSRL and the road tax, so consumers are actually paying less than 40 cents”.
Atherley also spoke to the amount of money minibus, taxi and route taxi operators said they would now be paying with the fuel tax in place.
“A man who drives a minibus under the current arrangement is spending $14,000 more annually, while a ZR operator after taking into consideration the waiving of road tax is spending over $8,000 more a year, and a ZM operator over $5,000 more,” he said.
However, Minister Duguid countered, “The Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) and other PSV associations made a presentation to me, the Minister in the Ministry of Finance (Straughn) and the Prime Minister and showed the increases in their expenses. Yes, their costs have gone up, but they are nowhere near $14,000. The rates varied depending on the size of the bus and the route they operated on, and it came to about half that total,” he added.
On another matter related to Government’s eventual move towards more energy efficient vehicles, Duguid said Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) was a viable option for the local market. “We made an assessment on the cost of natural gas versus electricity, and it is 11 cents per kilometre for natural gas, 23 cents per kilometre for electricity, and 33 cents per kilometre for diesel.
“Diesel and gasoline are imported from overseas, along with the fuel used to generate electricity, while natural gas is readily available here. There are over 3,000 vehicles running on CNG in Trinidad, and a conversion kit for a vehicle costs between $400 and $500. In fact, I am considering purchasing one for my car.”