By Stanford Conway
Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Denzil Douglas said residents of St. Kitts are paying less for electricity than their counterparts on sister islands of the Eastern Caribbean States and that the recent protest march was politically motivated.
“St. Kitts and Nevis, at the moment, pays the very lowest in terms of generation of electricity. St. Kitts in particular pays even much lower that Nevis and the lowest in the Eastern Caribbean.
“When you look at the fuel surcharge, what we have here in St. Kitts is 21 cents, St. Lucia 34 cents, Dominica 33 cents, St. Vincent and the Grenadines 29 cents, Grenada 37 cents, Antigua and Barbuda 46 cents, and only Anguilla is paying a lower fuel surcharge than St. Kitts. All the other Eastern Caribbean are paying more than the people in St. Kitts,” said Dr. Douglas.
The PM was at the time speaking to BBC Caribbean Report’s Ken Richards on the recent rise in fuel surcharge on electricity in which hundreds of residents protested by marching through the streets of Basseterre last week Thursday.
Dr. Douglas explained that the fuel surcharge was not an unnecessary hardship to residents when taking the financial and other economic problems of the country into consideration..
“We just closed our sugar industry. We had to find over $40 million to pay sugar workers who were made redundant. We also have one of the highest debt to GDF ratio in the whole Eastern Caribbean and since the government is now saying because of the escalating prices in fuel, which is being bought from overseas, we have to ask our own citizens on St. Kitts to pay a little more than they were paying before in order to meet the escalating fuel bill, I really do not understand why our people have to march against the fuel surcharge,” explained Dr. Douglas.
The PM noted the government has the nation’s interest at heart and stated that it was less than two years since civil servants received the highest percentage salary increase in the whole of the Eastern Caribbean.
He also explained that the government had no control over imported commodities and services to the country and it was mandatory for consumers to assist in paying some of the bills, especially fuel.
“I am not saying that our people have not been asked to pay more in other areas. They have been asked to pay more for food in the shops because we don’t produce those things here, but what we produce here we have attempted to control the price. But there are other things that we cannot really control the price of, and so part of it has been passed on to the consumers,” added Dr. Douglas.
Reiterating the decision made by the Monetary Council of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank when that entity held its 55th Meeting at the Bank’s Headquarters some two weeks ago, the PM said the Council, in order not to ruin the economic and financial situations in OECS member states, agreed to pass the fuel energy cost to the consumers.
“Every member that comes from the Eastern Caribbean agreed to the position that we would have to pass part of the fuel increases to our consumers. Every member of the Monetary Council agreed to that, so I don’t see why St. Kitts, in particular, has to be different,” said Dr. Douglas.
He asserted that the protest march was politically motivated and a surprise awaits those who think it would bring them political mileage.
“I want to make a point that it is a politically motivated march. For some reason the People’s Action Movement has not been able to get the political lift in this country and for some weird reason the people thing that a march against the fuel surcharge is going to give them some political lift; but I say to them, they have something waiting for them in the future,” Dr. Douglas intimated.
He however explained that his administration was trying to ensure the fuel surcharge was being calculated in the best possible way affordable in St. Kitts and if it were possible in any way to decrease the current rate, attempts would be made to do so.
“Also,” the PM added, “I have given instructions, and the Cabinet has approved this in particular, that those persons in our community who are unable by virtue of a poverty situation that would have been assessed through a need-assessment procedure or programme, we would exempt those at the moment from paying that fuel surcharge.”
PM Douglas explained that Care Officers would visit the elderly, poor and those who are believed to be most vulnerable, with the view of assessing and ascertaining their ability to cope with the recent increase in electricity rates.
He added that the Care Officers would present their findings to the Minister of Social Development, whose ministry would provide guidance to the Minister of Finance and the Minister with responsibility for Utilities in order to exempt those assessed households that fall into the prescribed categories.
In response to a drop in world oil prices, Dr. Douglas said the fuel surcharge would be removed from consumers’ bills.
“It is a floating charge. If the price for our diesel that we are buying from overseas to generate electricity goes down then the fuel surcharge goes down; and if it goes down to a level that the government is now again able to afford it will disappear from the people’s bill,” said Dr. Douglas.
Meanwhile, Press Secretary to the PM, Erasmus Williams, explained that when the energy charge and the fuel surcharge are combined the electricity consumer in St. Kitts pays 58 cents, while those in Anguilla pay 74 cents, St. Lucia 99 cents, Dominica $1.01, Montserrat $1.02, St. Vincent $1.06, Grenada $1.10 and Antigua $1.31.
He also encouraged consumers in the Federation to conserve fuel and energy as the world market price continues to fluctuate and over which, “we in St. Kitts and Nevis, the Caribbean and other non-producing nations have no control.”
Williams said that over the next few weeks the Communications Unit in the Office of the PM, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Utilities, would provide tips to the general public on how to conserve energy in their homes, offices and cars.
Last week Thursday afternoon hundreds of residents of the twin-island Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis turned out to participate in a march to protest against the recent hike in the fuel surcharge on electricity and taxes imposed on a number of commodities and services.