August 20, 2004
Fuel hike, new challenges for our nation

This editorial is being written at the same time that our country must be agonizing over the 2-0 defeat of our Vincy Heat soccer team in their World Cup encounter against Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Warriors.
It’s not the greatest of times to be receiving any more news that dampens spirits, but try as our Prime Minister did last Monday, the news of an increase in fuel prices cannot be good for a lot of persons. {{more}} But anyone who has been following the trend worldwide would have anticipated that it was only a matter of time.
Government here had for some time now been trying to cushion the inevitable through the use of a mechanism called the Bonus Malus system which was “designed to stabilize petroleum prices at the pump as the PM explained it. But stabilizing prices was always going to be a challenge for a small petroleum-importing nation like ours.
The Prime Minister in his usual legal counsel style carefully made a case to justify the 75-cent increase. Maybe the strongest point he made was when he made fuel price comparisons with those paid in neighbouring countries of the OECS, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. According to the PM’s figures, it was only in St. Kitts Nevis, where persons pay $6.60 for gasoline and $5.15 for diesel, that we have been putting out more money for fuel at the pumps. In St. Lucia a gallon of gasoline cost $8.50 with diesel $7.75 while our Dominican brothers and sisters often express surprise at our $6.65 for gasoline while they have long laboured with $8.82 and $7.13 for gas and diesel respectively.
It was thus a very sober Dr. Gonsalves who had to be the bearer of less than good news when he spelt out the possible impacts of this fuel hike. Yes this will trigger a series of increases, which could then put additional pressures on our pockets and force us to reevaluate our spending and lifestyle choices.
We in these countries at times live as though we are oil producers rather than petroleum importers. Ironically, while countries of the European Union prefer small cars, and while consumers in the USA and Canada are looking increasingly at acquiring more energy efficient vehicles, we increasingly seem to prefer fuel-guzzling SUVs. This course is more tempting given the fact that we can now obtain these comforts at more accessible prices directly from Japan. But, while this puts a drain on our country’s foreign reserves no politician is going to risk losing popularity by beginning to address this issue.
The fraternal links we have formed with Venezuelan President Chavez who has offered to supply fuel to us at friendly terms gives some ray of hope though it will not solve all our problems.
The fuel increase therefore presents for us all yet a whole series of challenges. How we all cope with them will require our collective wisdom and strategic thinking.