There would not be an increase in the price of gasoline in tomorrow’s mid-year review of the 2018 Budget, Finance Minister Colm Imbert has indicated.
Imbert gave the hint during yesterday’s Standing Finance Committee deliberations.
Prior to tomorrow’s review of how the Budget has worked - and will be working ahead - the Committee yesterday shifted a total of $796.2 million from the Finance Ministry to supplement and increase the Budgetary appropriation of 18 divisions.
These included 12 Ministries and Tobago House of Assembly. Funding was for specific matters in each. Highest funding -$169.2m- went to the Public Utilities Ministry. Lowest was $908,770 received by the Tax Appeal Board.
The issue of gasoline price arose when $100m was approved for the Energy Ministry. Energy Minister Franklin Khan said this was to meet fuel subsidy costs for diesel and super gasoline. He noted the 2018 Budget had removed the fuel subsidy, resulting in price hikes for diesel and super gas.
But he said a residual subsidy of 30 cents per litre remained. He noted the Budget was predicated on an oil price of US$52 a barrel - but the price was now above this and the State, therefore, had to meet subsidy costs for diesel and super.
Khan said it was uncertain if the $100m will be sufficient to cover costs, “It depends on how the oil price goes - up or down.”
Imbert said high oil prices do not necessarily help Government since royalties are being received from Petrotrin - and Petrotrin produces 60 per cent of T&T’s oil.
Plus, he added, when the price rises, Government has to pay a fuel subsidy to Petrotrin, NP and Unipet - and that is not helped by lack of royalty income from Petrotrin.
Imbert said the oil price is now US$70, “We didn’t think it would go to that,” he said.
Opposition Chief Whip David Lee asked if there would be a gas price hike at the pumps based on where the price is now.
Imbert said, “No - I wouldn’t answer it in that way. I’d say in several Budgets, we’ve said we’d introduce a formula where, as the price of oil moves, the price of gas at the pump will move in tandem with that. We haven’t introduced that formula yet, because we never anticipated oil would hit US$70.”
He said, “We thought when we made the arrangements the previous increases would be sufficient for a US$52 oil price but now we have to go back to the drawing board and look at it and see what we’re going to do.”
“But we did say we’d introduce this formula like the US, Jamaica and Barbados, where as the price of oil goes up, the price of gas at the pump goes up in a direct correlation,” he said.
He intends giving more details on other issues - and T&T’s overall position - in tomorrow’s mid-year review, starting 10 am in Parliament.
As a result, the weekly Cabinet meeting may be today instead of tomorrow, government officials indicated.
Imbert added Government decided to “help” Tobago House of Assembly, supplementing its 2018 allocation with $20m to open up areas for agriculture with access roads and promote agri-business “especially with the imminent arrival of Sandals.”
He said that resort would require indigenous products “which we hope will be produced in Tobago.”
He said in the Budget THA received $20m for opening up agricultural access roads and Government may need to further supplement this in the next fiscal year.
UNC MP Suruj Rambachan, noting from Imbert ‘s figures since 2013, Tobago received a total of $340m for agricultural roads. He questioned productivity output levels.
Imbert said Government also gave THA $100m to reimburse its 2018 allocation following a $138m backpay sum to workers from a 2011- 2014 industrial agreement.
SUPPLEMENTATION OF 2018 APPROPRIATION
TOBAGO HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY $20m
ATTORNEY GENERAL/LEGAL AFFAIRS $30m
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT/ CULTURE/ARTS $2m
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT/FAMILY SERVICES $23m
VARIATION OF 2018 APPROPRIATION
SERVICE COMMISSIONS $1.3m
TAX APPEAL BOARD $908,770
PRIME MINISTER’S OFFICE $10m
TOBAGO HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY $100m
PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION/COMMUNICATIONS $20.8m
PUBLIC UTILITIES $169.2m
RURAL DEVELOPMENT/LOCAL GOVERNMENT $122m
HOUSING/URBAN DEVELOPMENT $11.2m
Source: www.guardian.co.tt (Gail Alexander)