Government broke the law when it raised the price of premium gasoline to $5.75 a litre, Diego Martin North/East MP Colm Imbert charged yesterday.
Speaking in the budget debate in the House of Representatives, Imbert said Finance Minister Larry Howai acted in breach of the Petroleum Levy and Subsidy Act.
He asked Government to explain why it imposed a price of $5.75 on the population when the true (cost) price of premium gasoline was $4.73. "Explain what you have done with the $1 in subsidy levied on oil companies which is supposed to be given back to consumers and used to subsidise all brands of gasoline, whether it is premium, super, to diesel. That levy was developed to cushion the people from energy prices...and is supposed to be applied to each grade of gasoline to offset prices," Imbert said.
"What are you doing, you are breaking the law!" he charged. He said the law was put in place to help poor people in the country.
Imbert said the effect of this "unlawful, arbitrary increase" is that at least 50 per cent of premium users would switch to super, since, he said, only four per cent of cars in the country had to use premium gasoline exclusively. However he also noted that the Minister stated that he would increase the price of other grades—super and diesel in the coming months.
Imbert also charged that the budget numbers were cooked, the budget figures were fraudulent and there would be no growth in 2012. He said all the Finance Minister had done was to manipulate the figures by changing the previous year's figure, making it smaller to create an illusion of growth.
"His own document shows that there would be no growth in agriculture, the petroleum sector and manufacturing in 2012 but he...pulls out of a hat like Houdini a projected economic growth of 1.2 per cent," Imbert said. The PNM MP described this as a "shameful" sleight of hand. He said every year for the past three years Government had revised the budget figures to make a nonsense out of Budget arithmetic. "You can't tell me that the economy gone down way way low, since you have come in, and now it would creep back up by 1 per cent, when the GDP in 2012 is going to be lower than when the PNM demitted office. It is just empty words," Imbert said.
He said when one examined the Review of the Economy for 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, one saw that the Government changed the GDP figures every year. In 2011, former Minister Winston Dookeran projected real GDP to be $88 billion. He said the new Minister had adjusted this figure and he was now saying the GDP for last year was $86.7 billion, a $1.3 billion cut. "So the new Minister tells us that the old Minister got his sums wrong," Imbert said. He said the effect of this was when one put the "imaginary growth of one per cent", you come back to a figure that is lower than the GDP predicted by the Minister of Finance in 2011. We are being told that the GDP for 2012 would be $87.8 billion. But the Minister last year told us that the GDP for 2011 was $88 billion...while the new Minister of Finance cut that and send it down to $86.7 billion," Imbert said.
Imbert said the Government had broken its promises made in the last two successive budgets. He cited some of the promises from the 2010 budget—Youth Mentoring programme, National Security Operating Centre, bicycle patrols, victims of crime support programme, special criminal courts for firearms, kidnapping and narcotic offences, construction of the San Grande Magistrates' Court and Arima Judicial Complex and shuttle service for the elderly. "Not Done!" Imbert chanted after each project. "And when I say not done I don't mean not done in 2011, I mean not done up to today," he added.
Imbert said promises such as the establishment of an Integrated Campus consisting of UWI, UTT and COSTAATT in Tobago and the establishment of growth poles had been promised in the last two budgets. "The new Finance Minister is promising for the third year in a row, things that the last Minister promised to do since in 2010," he said.