Finance Minister Larry Howai says he is not aware that the Government broke any law when it increased the price of premium gasoline in the 2012/2013 budget.
This was his response in an interview with TV6 News which aired last night about a claim made by Opposition MP Colm Imbert that the hike in the price of a litre of premium gasoline from $4 to $5.75 was in breach of the Petroleum Levy and Subsidy Act.
"This is the first I'm hearing of it," Howai said.
Imbert said the Act, passed during in 1973, stipulates that all oil companies in Trinidad and Tobago pay a levy to help reduce the local retail price of petroleum products, including super and premium gasoline and diesel.
Howai said Finance Ministry officials looked at the whole issue of the reduction of the subsidy in premium gasoline.
"Without the subsidy, yes, I'm told that the price would be ($)6.21 we are actually at ($)5.75 so there is still an element of subsidy inside of there so the whole issue of contravening the law doesn't really arise as far as we could see," Howai said.
He however said he has asked officials at the Finance Ministry to take a second look "to see whether there is any substance" to Imbert's claim.
"But, as far as we're aware, at the moment certainly we are not in contravention in any law that is basically our position at this point in time," Howai said.
Imbert claimed the oil petroleum levy now accounted for $1 billion of the $4.7 billion fuel subsidy.
In response to a question from TV6 News, Howai said he was aware of the Act and added that the levy placed on the multinational energy giants that extracted oil from the land and marine reserves in Trinidad and Tobago was now "in the region of about $700 million."
"And so, for example, when we quoted, we say the subsidy is $4.4 billion and what we do is we deduct the $700 million. So you may sometimes hear numbers quoted that the subsidy is $3.7 billion and sometimes you hear is ($)4.4 (billion) and, I know, sometimes the public gets confused and they don't know if it's 3 billion, 3.7 or 4.4," Howai said.
He explained that "some people" may quote the net subsidy figure (minus the petroleum levy) while others may quote the gross subsidy figure (with the petroleum levy).
"In determining what the overall requirement is for this year we would have taken, done our own projections, of where the petroleum subsidy comes in to determine what exactly would be the requirement for this year," Howai said.