ECONOMICS Affairs Minister Michael Halkitis. Photo: Austin Fernander
By LYNAIRE MUNNINGS
Tribune Staff Reporter
ECONOMIC Affairs Minister Michael Halkitis yesterday said the government is “not minded” to do anything that will increase the cost of fuel at the pump, but added that the Davis administration is “sympathetic” to the concerns raised by members of the Bahamas Petroleum Retailers Association.
This comes after members of BPRA said on Wednesday that they intend to soon take action to get the government’s attention for their cries for a long-awaited margin increase, arguing that they can no longer afford to operate under the current regime due to increasing costs.
Yesterday, while wrapping up the mid-year budget debate in the Senate, Mr Halkitis acknowledged the concerns of fuel retailers, however, he insisted that the government does not want to do anything that will lead to an immediate increase in the price of fuel.
“I would just like to say we have been in some discussions for some time for many months and the concerns of the retailers have been their margin, has not had a margin increase in the (last) number of years,” he said yesterday.
“Some additional concerns, those who rent their premises, the level of the rent, the level of the franchise fees that they have to pay the oil companies, the level of the amount off the top from the sales in their stores that they have to pay the oil companies that really squeezes the margin the government has a fixed rate of tax on gasoline, combination tax on diesel.”
He continued: “In all of our discussions with petroleum dealers we have been sympathetic to their plight, but in all of our discussions, we have made it quite clear, and I have done so in the meetings, that the government of The Bahamas is not minded to take any action that will lead to an immediate increase in the price of gas at the pump.”
On Wednesday, Raymond Jones, BPRA’s president, told reporters during a press conference that the group plans to reduce operating costs to stay afloat, which could mean cutting back on business hours and laying off staff among other things. He urged the public “to stay tuned”.
He spoke after the association convened an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss what their next course of action will be following months of silence from the Davis administration over their renewed requests for a margin increase.
Yesterday, however, Mr Halkitis noted there has been some discussion about moving from a fixed tax to ad valorem tax—levied based on a percentage of fuel — however, he urged fuel retailers to “continue dialogue” with the government.
“Our position remains that the government of The Bahamas will not implement anything that will lead to an immediate increase in the price at the pump. Consumers and business people, the government of The Bahamas are not prepared to entertain it.
“We are prepared to look at the proposal back and forth, but we will not do something that will lead to an immediate increase in the price of gas at the pump. I don’t know if I can say it any simpler, I’ve said it over and over, Mr Vice President, and I stand by that.”
In suggesting further dialogue, Mr Halkitis warned that the actions of BPRA are “counterproductive”, saying that there is always a way to develop an “amicable solution”, rather than taking a “hard way” that comes across as a threat to the government.
The last time petroleum dealers enjoyed a margin increase was in 2011 when the Hubert Ingraham-led Free National Movement (FNM) government granted a 10-cent increase per gallon of gasoline to take it from 44 cents to 54 cents.
A 15-cent increase per gallon of diesel was also allowed. The government itself currently collects over $1.60 for every gallon of gasoline sold in The Bahamas.