Government will not allow the gas situation to become worse.
This was the word from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday as gave assurances that the decision to privatise National Petroleum gas stations will not lead to a monopoly.
“It will be very transparent and it will be very open. And if course we will not, nothing is reserved for anybody. Conglomerate or solitaire. The situation is that we will ensure that there is transparency in what we do. Nothing is reserved for anybody,” Rowley said following the opening of the new Diego Martin Health Centre in Diamond Vale.
During Monday’s Budget presentation, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert announced the liberalisation of the fuel sector as well as the intended sale of all NP gas stations, with operators to be given first preference.
However, this has brought fear of a monopoly among private entities and increased costs at the pumps as a result for the public. But Rowley tried to allay those fears.
“Of course, the Government will have to ensure that whatever we create does not worsen our situation or give any undue advantage or create any disadvantage,” he said in response to questions of a potential monopoly emerging.
He also downplayed the possibility of runaway prices adversely affecting the wider public, as he said it placed a level of responsibility on the consumer to manage the market as he reminded that National Petroleum never controlled the fuel prices.
“That was never NP’s role, fuel prices were a cabinet decision. It will be more of a market situation because of competition in the market, the consumer will now play a bigger role,” he said.
“If the people who are now going to get involved in owning gas stations and they are competing, you wouldn’t go to a gas station where the price is higher would you?
“And by the same token, if the price of oil goes up and takes the price of fuel up with it, you wouldn’t run up and down with your car because you feel to drive? You would make a decision as to when you travel, how many people you carry if you have family, how often you travel, how much fuel you burn, so you now have the lever in your hand to determine how you influence your fuel expense.”
Rowley also responded to complaints from used car dealers, who expect their market to collapse amid the removal of tax concessions for the imported vehicles and the reduction of the importation of the age of used cars to three years. He explained that the importation of cars was not a national priority at this time.
“I would simply say to the people in the car business, used car, unused car and whatever, if I have a choice to make between ensuring we have foreign exchange to buy medicine for the hospital, I would restrict the expenditure on motorcars. Because one thing this country is not short of is motorcars, but we cannot be short of medicine for the hospital. And that is my answer,” Rowley said.
In fact, he revealed that consideration was made to completely ban the importation of cars.
“You know there are some countries in situations like this where all they did was ban the importation of cars. Case closed,” he said.
“We didn’t do that. But yet that was an option that we had you know. And I must tell you we considered it you know. It was considered. But we said we will take the next option, which is to restrict the importation.”
Rowley also explained the reasoning behind the decision to privatise the Port of Port-of-Spain, which he said would raise the level of the port. (See editorial on Page A12)
“At this point in time, the option that is best for us is to get it into a situation where the Port of Trinidad and Tobago could be a recognised port by those who use the world’s transportation service,” he said.
“We are receiving the outcome of our decades of management. Getting weaker and weaker and weaker and weaker in port business. What foreign investment would do, or even local investment for that matter, if we get it out of the public service into the hands of private sector.
“They automatically will put the port into an international perspective. The investment that they will make to upgrade the port and so on, they will focus not just being the Port in Port-of-Spain for colloquial business and reasons but see it in the context of international transportation.”