Months after government officials indicated they were considering measures to provide some relief to petroleum retailers, and ultimately to Bahamian consumers burdened by high fuel costs, they remain in a state of paralysis on what to do.
On April 14, Financial Secretary Simon Wilson told reporters the government was considering several options, including adjusting taxes and business license fees for petroleum retailers who were complaining about losing money due to the spike in oil prices.
On May 10, Minister of Economic Affairs Michael Halkitis said the retailers could expect to hear from the government “in a few weeks” on what relief will be offered.
“We have undertaken that we’ll come back to them to have a resolution by budget time,” Halkitis said.
“I’ll leave it at that but just to say that [the] prime minister has participated in both meetings [with retailers] as an indication of his commitment to assist. Again, if the solutions were easy, they would’ve been done already, but we’re looking at a number of the ways that we think we can help them, so expect to hear something in a matter of a few weeks.”
That was more than 12 weeks ago.
Yesterday, with high fuel costs still a major concern for Bahamians and recession fears in the United States, Prime Minister Philip Davis again addressed the issue.
Davis told reporters the government is considering reducing taxes on gasoline in an effort to lower the price of gas.
“We are now considering what we are going to do with the retail gas stations, seeking to reduce some of their taxes on VAT (value-added tax) to be able to pass that on to consumers at the pump,” he said.
“That is something in the works.”
It has been months now and the government is still “considering” and still stalling, no doubt hoping that the situation will sort itself out and lower global oil prices will ease the burden.
But if the government was indeed serious about providing a formula for some relief at the pumps, one would have thought it would have done so by now.
The government continues to reap a VAT bonanza on gasoline, food and other imports while it has failed to offer any relief to help bring down the price of gas at the pump.
Tax on gasoline in The Bahamas is $1.06 per gallon, plus VAT of 10 percent on costs and freight, and one cent per gallon for gasoline sold at the pump.
Gas prices in New Providence remain at or just under $7 per gallon. Prices are higher in the Family Islands.
The Consumer Price Index Report for June 2022 revealed that consumers paid 33.5 percent more for gasoline and 32.1 percent more for diesel on a year-over-year basis.
We noted earlier in this space that in response to rising gas prices and in an effort to cushion its impact upon its people, the government in Barbados had capped the dollar amount of taxes payable for gas for a six-month period, while in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the government reduced the tax on fuels by 25 percent.
The government of The Bahamas has done no such thing.
We also noted that while there have been unjustifiable increases in the number of overseas missions, consulates and postings, a lot of international travel with sizable delegations, unseemly, excessive and unnecessary political hirings at above public service salary scales, but below qualification requirements that the government has sought to couch in good public relations, the Davis administration has been slow to act on critically important issues.
We again acknowledge that it is not the fault of the current administration that gas prices are at historic highs.
But the position of the current administration to apparently wait and see what happens as critical industries teeter on the verge of financial ruin is not acceptable.
It is not a simple solution, but as Davis likes to tell us, his administration was elected to solve big problems.
The fuel crisis would certainly qualify.
It is not enough after months to continue to be “considering” solutions. It is high time the government make a concrete announcement that something has been decided and action taken.