During his last budget presentation the prime minister and minister of finance announced the removal of subsidies on brown sugar, ostensibly a declaration of war on diabetes. The PM also announced VAT of 15% will now be collected on fish, butter, margarine, salt and beans. Since then VAT has also been added to other beans and peas, as well as canned sardines. Hardly a reprieve for the poor.
During the May budget, without any earlier warning, the prime minister said: “I propose to invite Parliament to amend the Electricity Supply Act . . . to increase the rate to 50 cents per imperial gallon or part thereof.” And while another proposal of the prime minister, a five per cent cut in wages of public servants is yet to see the light of day, thanks to unions, not so with the LUCELEC proposal.
On Monday, LUCELEC announced an increase in the tax charged by the Government of Saint Lucia on fuel purchased by Saint Lucia Electricity Services Limited had indeed come into effect on June 16, 2014, when the statutory instrument for that purpose was published in the Saint Lucia Gazette.
Fuel purchased by LUCELEC from Buckeye St. Lucia Terminal Limited now attracts a levy of fifty cents on every gallon. This increase in the levy, according to LUCELEC, will be reflected in customer bills beginning in July. According to the government, customers can expect a “marginal” increase in the fuel surcharge applied to electricity bills.
There is nothing marginal about a 150% increase, particularly since consumers have already seen an increase of more than 60% in water rates. Add to that an increase in food prices, medical fees and unemployment of over 24% and the picture is quite grim.
Over the past few months, a number of businesses have also closed down, with banks downsizing and call centers going belly-up, all reeling from the economic pressure. Speak to many small businesses and the inability to pay staff and high utility bills are among their gravest concerns.
So how will this marginal increase in electricity help an already bad situation? Wasn’t Petrocaribe fuel from Venezuela supposed to result in a drop of fuel prices? And when will Jimmy Fletcher’s dream of alternative energy come true? Seems like there are more questions than answers these days, at least from the crowd of consultants and vision commissioners who are supposedly tasked to save the country from impending disaster.