IN THE SENATE
ANY notion that the government’s fuel price increases were meant to be a punitive measure against the people has been dismissed by Finance Minister Brian Manning.
This followed an accusation made on Tuesday by opposition Senator Wade Mark that the implementation two weeks ago of higher prices for petrol and diesel was intended to “punish” the people of Trinidad and -Tobago.
Speaking during the Senate adjournment debates, Mark said the People’s Partnership government had sought to raise the standard of living of the people and had never reached into the pockets of the poor.
Manning disagreed and in his response recalled the scandals surrounding LifeSportTT and Super Industrial Services (SIS).
He went on to say that the reduction in the fuel subsidy “is not meant to be punitive”.
“It’s a shared responsibility,” Manning said.
He said the subsidies were inherently “inefficient and unsustainable”, noting that subsidized products like fuel were sustained by taxes, not state enterprise revenues.
“I remind people that just because you get something for free doesn’t mean it’s not paid for,” Manning said. He added that there was no comparison based on the cost of living between other Caricom countries, which would have justified the continuation of the subsidy.
“How do you compare an economy where almost everything is subsidized by the state with taxpayers’ money to economies where very little is subsidized? he asked. He also said local prices remain among the lowest in the Caribbean and the Western Hemisphere.
Manning said taxpayer dollars that weren’t spent on these grants could be spent more effectively to “strengthen our social safety net in food cards, subsidies, unemployment benefits, public transportation and ‘other measures designed to protect the poorest among us’.
Manning said the government’s actions were aimed at protesting the interests of the people and added:
“The government understands the challenges we all face now.”
He added, however, “Sometimes the most effective economic medicine tastes bitter.”
He later said being finance minister was not a “popularity contest” and said the United National Congress (UNC) sought to put popularity before governance.
Manning said that with the Covid-19 pandemic, the world, along with T&T, had weathered one of the steepest economic downturns in history.
He said it did not come without cost and that “tough decisions and sacrifices have to be made”.
Manning gave assurances that the government will stand with citizens as T&T charts a course through “the choppy waters stirred by the pandemic and geopolitical issues”.
On April 8, 2022, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced in Parliament that the government had further reduced its fuel subsidy, which meant an increase in retail prices at petrol stations.
Beginning April 19, premium gasoline increased by $1 at the pump, from $5.97 and $4.97 to $6.75 and $5.97. The price per liter of diesel also increased, from $3.41 to $3.91.