KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — The Dr. Ralph Gonsalves Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration is to blame for the decision by SOL to stop supplying Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) — “cooking gas” — to Vincentian consumers, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace said on Monday.
Eustace also said the ULP government is to be faulted for the decrease in visitors to the country this year and an unlikeliness that omnibus operators would get an increase in bus fares.
The former prime minister and minister of finance said that while there are international factors at work, the ULP government has wasted a lot of the country’s financial resources.
Eustace said that in 2005, when the ULP began running a deficit budget – departing for a policy that it had continued from the 17 NDP years – he had warned that this “could only lead to us not having money later on”.
“… [T]hey were doing too much spending in the wrong way and not concentrating on having some funds in reserve,” Eustace said.
“And we are paying for that now because a lot of our things are not properly funded now,” he added.
Eustace said the Tourism Authority has not received its budget allocation and hence could not finance the promotion necessary to woo visitors to the country.
He said a similar situation exists at the Roads, Building and General Services Authority that “can’t fix the road because the money is not coming”.
The government, he said, is not operating with a surplus and “… everything is a deficit, deficit, deficit”.
“All these things are linked and the minibus situation and the cooking gas situation are linked to the same thing also,” Eustace said.
He said while omnibuses are operating on fares from 30 years ago, “because of the general economic situation [the government is] worried about increasing bus fares.
“But the reality is, if the government had been doing its job and having some surpluses so many people would not have been out of work; people would have been better off and better able to absorb an increase in mini bus fare and so with the gas,” said Eustace, an economist.
He said the situation between SOL and RUBIS is also related to the “government’s bad spending”.
“If the economy was doing better and more people had not been laid off and so on, they [would be] better able to absorb an increase in price of LPG. But because things are so bad, any price increase now hits you very hard. So, they are afraid to give the company any increase in the price of gas,” Eustace explained.
RUBIS is seeking to have the government review the price mechanism for LPG. After negotiations between RUBIS and SOL collapsed last week, SOL decided to pull LPG from the Vincentian market.
“The government is once again trying to dance them around and that is what has led to SOL having this thing,” Eustace said, employing a phrased Gonsalves used in 2005 when a similar situation developed.
Eustace said that while RUBIS is willing to supply SOL with LPG and allow them to use their facilities in St. Vincent to store the fuel, “this can’t be done because [with] the increase in the price of gas, SOL can only operate at a loss and they are not prepared to operate at a loss.”
LPG is price-controlled in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, meaning that the government has to first approve changes in price.
“… they (the government) are trying to avoid that. That is only going to make the situation worse because people are not going to get the supply at all until the matter is settled,” Eustace said.
“You have a situation now where everything will come to a head soon because I don’t know how long people will be able to do without cooking gas. So, it is better they sit down and negotiate,” Eustace said.
“There are a lot of factors we need to take into account. There are arguments on both sides. All I am saying [is] don’t just leave it hanging there. Do something about it. Take a decision one way or the other. Negotiate something rather than have people hanging out and can’t get gas and so on,” he added.