In 2012, shortly after assuming office, the SLP kept its election promise to reduce the excise tax on petrol to $2.50 per gallon.
As world prices fluctuated, the UWP whilst in opposition accused the SLP of hiding $6.80 in taxes on each gallon of petrol. With elections on the horizon, the UWP headed by Allen Chastenet held two marches against the “hidden tax” which they claimed was causing the price of petrol to be too high. (In response to the march SLP reduced the period of adjustment from three (3) months to three (3) weeks) Price mechanism did not change. They promised to reduce prices if elected.
Among the first pronouncements made by Prime Minister Chastanet upon assumption of office was that he “already signed” the SI reducing gas prices. That was a lie. The ‘so-called’ hidden tax was never removed and the pricing mechanism was never changed.
The Government hid the new tax in the estimates and it was only upon careful analysis the SLP Parliamentarians realised there was going to be an additional excise tax hidden there to be applied to petrol. Though raised by the SLP, the Prime Minister and his Minister in the Ministry of Finance refused to acknowledge this during the Debate on the Estimates.
During the Budget Debate it was explained that the $1.50 was to fix roads and would create a dedicated revenue stream. Whilst there is in the Estimates a line item reflecting the revenue collection there is no corresponding line item in expenditure to reflect the expenditure of such revenue. Of course you will recall that the Minister of Infrastructure did not speak in the Budget Debate and therefore explanation has been given to the people of Saint Lucia.
By delaying the passage of the budget, the Prime Minister has lost three (3) months or 25% of the money he claims would be allocated for roads.
Further, by capping the price at $12.75 if the landed cost of gas is over $11.25, the new tax of $1.50 allocation will be reduced by whatever sum the landed cost exceeds $11.25. If the landed price is above $12.75, it means not only will the government get no tax but they will also have to use taxpayers money simply to keep the gas cap at $12.75. This raises certain questions – what is the basis of the cap and with who was this cap agreed to? If monies have been budgeted for road repairs based on the tax but there is a shortfall because of the cap, then how would roads repairs be financed?
In a piece prepared by Richard Peterkin, he states that the intentions announced in the Budget is to place the new revenue stream in a separate account rather than the consolidated fund but this will require amendments in the existing financial legislation and regulations to do so.
It is very clear that any attempt to change our laws to allow Government to create separate accounts outside the consolidated fund to place taxpayer’s money will be strongly resisted by the Labour Party.