Minister of Energy, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Kerrie Symmonds is standing firmly behind his ministry’s regulation of the petroleum sector, in the face of tremendous concern about a sharp climb in the price of the important commodity.
On Monday, the outspoken minister described the fledgling ‘$3.88’ protest movement as “a nonsense”, as he blamed a 61 per cent increase on the import cost of fuel between January and June for the market instability.
And, as stakeholders desperately attempt to tackle the problem, Symmonds is advising consumers to reduce their driving as a worthwhile cost-saving measure.
“I appreciate that people would want to express their own individual concern as it hits them in the pocket. I caution them to apply the best possible analyses and prudence in their decision-making,” Minister Symmonds told Barbados TODAY.
“Frankly, I will not spend my time driving from gas station to gas station just to replace a litre of fuel. That is a nonsense. There is truth to the fact that prices have surged. The Government is conscious of it and looking at all options, but you will make a bad situation worse for yourselves if you only go and buy a litre of gas. If I can make a suggestion, it is wiser wherever possible to limit the amount of driving you do,” he further suggested.
Minister Symmonds was referring to increasing pressure from accountant Olujimi Clarke who has been encouraging citizens to fill their vehicles with one litre of petrol until the government addresses the surging cost of fuel.
Because the current price stands at 3.88 per gallon, the movement has become synonymous with this number.
While acknowledging that he “understands what the young man is trying to do”, Symmonds declared the “emotionally provocative” issue is one that requires more careful analysis.
The minister recalled that at the height of the pandemic when air and ground transportation ground to a halt, waning demand resulted in plummeting oil prices. He explained that as countries rebound and demand suddenly increases, the price of oil has skyrocketed.
“We have looked at all of the price movements between January and June of this year and the imported price of petroleum into this country has gone up by 61 per cent,” contended Symmonds.
“Now that is the price of petroleum without the government taxes being applied so that the fuel tax applied to the litre is still 40 per cent; the excise tax applied to the litre of petroleum products is still at 99 cents on the litre so that the issue that we are dealing with once again is the substantial increase in product,” he added.
Minister Symmonds further defended the relatively high taxes on fuel products contending that it was necessary to fund much-needed improvements to the country’s crumbling road network.
“This government is in the process of trying to find the resources to fix badly maintained networks of roads in this island. From my constituency in St James, from Prospect to Holetown, is being completely redone as a major artery, but that cost the government $15 million to do,” said Minister Symmonds.
“The resources have to come from somewhere. So it is easy to say ‘let us have less taxes’, but at the same time, there are consumers coming to me as minister responsible for consumer affairs now, who are saying ‘the parts to my car are going to be so expensive because I have to replace them so often because the road is so bad’,” he added.
Furthermore, he argued that one positive effect of Government’s petroleum tax structure is the fact that it fluctuates based on the consumer’s use of the road.
“Yes, the government moved road taxes away from the pocket of the consumer and shifted a lot of the tax structure onto the petrol pump. If you had to pay $1,000 in road tax or $1,500 in road tax, then obviously, you can’t avoid that,” Minister Symmonds contended.
“But you have some control at the petrol pump. You can, wherever possible, limit the amount of driving you do on weekends, or at night or whatever, so that there is an element of control to manage this situation in the hands of people, which did not previously exist.” ([email protected])