THE United Workers Party (UWP) will this afternoon stage a protest march against what it deems “unconscionable” fuel prices adjustments made by government recently.
The protest march begins at 5:00 p.m. near the Vigie Playing Field and heads into downtown Castries where the party is expected to hold a public meeting afterwards.
Ever since the adjusted rates for fuel were released on Monday, January 12, the UWP has repeatedly chided the government for not decreasing the prices low enough. At issue is government’s basis for arriving at a C.I.F. (cost, insurance, freight) of $8.66 and $8.51 for gasolene and diesel respectively.
Effective January 12, the price for gasolene at the pumps decreased from $15.85 to $13.64 per gallon while diesel decreased from $15.14 to $13.21 per gallon. While the prices for kerosene and liquid propane gas (LPG) also declined, it is the prices for gasolene and diesel that has fueled a verbal feud between the government and the UWP.
UWP Political Leader, Allen Chastanet, told The VOICE at a January 17 street rally in Vieux Fort that based on declining world market prices for crude oil, Saint Lucians deserve lower fuel prices. He contends that by not having low enough fuel prices, Saint Lucian consumers and businesses are at a disadvantage.
In response to Chastanet’s allegations, Prime Minister Kenny Anthony sought to explain government’s rationale for arriving at the current fuel rates. In his January 18 New Year’s Address, Dr. Anthony said that the wholesaler’s and retailer’s margins when added to the landing cost of gasolene over the accounting period totalled $10.62. The opposition’s claim of “hidden taxes” being imposed by the government, he said, was misleading. The Prime Minister has also indicated that further reduction in fuel prices can be expected shortly.
A press release from the Office of the Prime Minister dated January 19 stated that according to the Ministry of Finance: “…the C.I.F. prices used to calculate the wholesale and retail prices of petroleum products are averages of the actual costs incurred by the importers, SOL and Rubis, prior to the date of announcing the price adjustments.”
Later in the same paragraph of that press release is the following: “Given that the prices are adjusted every three months under the Modified Pass-Through Mechanism, the period used to calculate the current C.I.F. prices is October 2014 to December 2014. Based on the average import cost for the previous three-month period, prices are adjusted for the following period. The C.I.F. prices for the January 2015 to March 2015 period will determine the adjustments to be made in April 2015.”
In an interview with The VOICE yesterday, Chastanet said the latest fuel debate was the crescendo in a series of what he described as “bad policies” being implemented by the government and its reluctance to heed advice.
“This is the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Chastanet said. “We’ve asked genuine questions and the government gives its typical answers which were incorrect, insensitive and there was no change in policy.”
Chastanet called on Saint Lucians to partake in the march to show solidarity for the myriad of outstanding issues facing the nation, adding that Tuesday’s meeting with bus drivers was “a delay tactic.” He said that while he understands that many people would be fearful of joining the march, the current climate calls for making their voices heard and presence felt.
“There are some people who have really gotten to the point where they’re so frustrated that they’re prepared to come out to march,” Chastanet said. “There is an opposition and we will be putting pressure on (the government). If in fact they continue to go down this road, we will be escalating our level of advocacy against them.”
Chastanet’s New Year’s Address was televised last evening, his first televised address since retaining the leadership at the UWP’s convention last November. In that address, he spoke about, among other things, the contentious fuel debate, and his party’s plans for the country.