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Gonsalves announces ‘shield’ against rising electricity bills

Gonsalves announces ‘shield’ against rising electricity bills
Prime Minister of St Vincent & the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves - FP

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KINGSTOWN – The St Vincent and the Grenadines government says it has taken emergency steps to prevent the fuel surcharge on electricity bills from surpassing the record high of EC$0.67 cents per unit in 2008.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said he had given instructions “so that we can keep the bill which is coming out (Tuesday) in some reasonable frame”.

The fuel surcharge this month has jumped from EC$0.58 cents per kilowatt hour to EC$0.72 cents per unit, an increase of EC$0.14 cents per unit.

“The bill is going to go up,” Gonsalves said, as he told a radio audience of an emergency meeting with the Director General of Finance and Planning, as well as Chair of the Board of VINLEC, Rene Baptiste, and acting chief executive of VINLEC, Vaughn Lewis.

“I’m trying to shield the people as much as possible from the burden because this is a poor people’s government. This is a working people’s government,” Gonsalves said.

“The highest that it has ever been is in 2008 when it was 67 cents, approximately, per unit per kilowatt hour, the fuel surcharge,” he said, noting that back then, unrefined diesel  sold for US$147.50 a barrel.

“Now this would have taken it higher,” he said, adding that he called the VINLEC chief executive officer, Thornley Myers, who is in Canada, and Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, who is attending the annual Caribbean Development Bank meeting in Turks and Caicos.

He said a similar call was made to the Director General of Finance and Planning “as we had to do something.

“Basically, what we are going to do, we are going to split the 14 cents. Let the consumer pay seven and we pay seven,” he said, adding that this will benefit VINLEC’s 47 000 consumers, including close to 42 000 domestic consumers.

“We will keep it below what the highest point has ever been. But still it will increase. VINLEC will absorb about EC$500 000 of that. And the government will put a number close to EC$300 000,” Gonsalves said, adding “if this has to be repeated next month, we’ll have to probably reduce the way that formula is between the government and VINLEC.

“It’s a difficult period. And, as always, I have to come to the people and be very honest. If we were to absorb all of it, it will cost us about EC$1.6 million and when you take into account that we are already doing over a million dollars a month in providing the subsidy on the gasoline [and diesel] at the pump…” (CMC)