I remember a time in Saint Lucia, when the price of fuel was as unstable as the government that served during that same period. On a monthly basis, businesses, minibus and taxi drivers and other motorists had to adjust to ever increasing prices. Given the instability in prices, petroleum dealers were extremely cautious when they ordered fuel and on several occasions, this resulted in shortages at the pump.
I remember too, that there was a time I went to the service station and spent almost an hour on the line waiting, because the fuel prices were about to increase the next day and everyone was trying to have their tanks filled at the lower price. During that same period, there were strikes and threats of strikes by minibus drivers and civil society because of increases in the cost of living, attributed largely to the ever increasing price of fuel. Many Saint Lucians will remember that there were never any announcements of changes in fuel prices by the Office of the Prime Minister. Instead, the adjustments were automatic and just happened, oftentimes unsuspectingly. That was between 2009 and 2011.
During this period and closer to the 2011 General Elections, the burden became too much to bear. Saint Lucians realized that the UWP Government cared only about its bottom line and paid no attention to the impact its policy was having on ordinary Saint Lucians. Talk of an increase in bus fare and more demands for increases in salaries at a time the economy was contracting, dominated the airwaves.
Whereas government does not import fuel and it has no influence on the landed cost of fuel in Saint Lucia, it is well known that government can influence the final price of the products by making adjustments to the excise tax regime on fuel. To this end, a call was made to the Stephenson King administration to reduce the taxes from $3.00 to $2.50, so that the public could receive some reprieve. That call went unheeded. The then Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Dr. Kenny D. Anthony promised that once elected, among his first actions would be the downward adjustment of the taxes and a review of the pricing policy of petroleum products.
As promised, immediately following his party’s victory at the polls, taxes on fuel were reduced from $3.00 to $2.50 and a Modified Pass Through Mechanism was introduced. Have you ever wondered why there was no opposition to this move when it was done? Have you ever wondered why, when Allen Chastanet became Political Leader of the UWP, fuel prices never featured among his list of issues to tackle? The answer is simple. Chastanet and the UWP knew the Government did the right thing and that it was in the interest of the consumers.
In January 2015, the United Workers Party decided to make fuel a political football. In the hope of gaining favour from the electorate, the UWP decided to blindfold themselves to the unpredictable nature of the changes in fuel prices and called for immediate changes in the price of fuel. The Government, in its wisdom, explained that any adjustments would be short-lived. The Government pointed out that consumers stood to lose in the long run, once prices begin to increase as they inevitably would. Although the UWP knew and saw the trends in the United States and Canada, where fuel prices were already adjusting slowly upward, blinded by their ambitions they took advantage of the emotions and shortsightedness of their supporters and decided to protest for a change in the Pass Through Mechanism. Not even the Prime Minister’s assurance that the prices would have been further reduced at the following adjustment date would deter Chastanet and company.
The Prime Minister’s admonition that a change in the mechanism would see frequent changes if prices become volatile was dismissed by Chastanet’s ideologues and supporters. They did not care; they duped themselves into believing that they could win the battle over fuel prices.
Whereas I applaud Kenny D. Anthony for his flexibility and his decision to adjust the Pass Through Mechanism from three months to the three week period, March 2, 2015 demonstrated that political expediency is costly. When Government announced that gasoline was increasing by eighty six cents ($.86) per gallon, suddenly the UWP had nothing to say about immediate adjustments. Chastanet no longer cared that just three weeks earlier, citizens were uploading selfies at gas stations and celebrating huge decreases in fuel prices. It did not matter to him that on February 2, 2015, gasoline was the lowest it had been in Saint Lucia in over ten years and cooking gas, although heavily subsidized was the cheapest in the region. By March 2, 2015, however, whereas other OECS countries were still enjoying the benefits of a longer pass through mechanism, in Saint Lucia gasoline prices were already on the increase, due to increases in import price and a higher dealer’s margin. Chastanet and his cohorts cannot now explain to Saint Lucians why the price of fuel has climbed again.
The dealers have a conscience and understand the impact consumption has on their bottom line. Had fuel prices remained stable over the three week period, do you think dealers would have made the move to claim the increases promised to them by the UWP Administration? Had the adjustment period remained at three months, wouldn’t the consumers have benefitted from a much longer period of lower prices when the adjustments were made in April? Given what is happening internationally, are we not to expect further increases in the months ahead? Even if there is a reduction in prices come the end of March, how long will it last?
Thank you Allen Chastanet! I hope this teaches you a lesson to be careful and thoughtful in what you choose to champion. When you take time to analyze situations and look beyond the immediate impact to think of sustainability, stability and the future, you will become wiser and more in tune with what is best for the people of this country. It is also a lesson to the rank and file UWP supporter. In Chastanet, they have an unthinking, clueless, and divisive political leader.
Chastanet claimed victory when the mechanism was adjusted. I hope he can now claim responsibility as the prices are increasing. The chickens have surely come home to roost!
By the way, have you wondered why Chastanet’s UWP have not championed a reduction in food prices at the supermarkets?
By Stephen Lester Prescott