By Kadeem Joseph
For the last two days, the most recent increase in the price of oil and gas has dominated the news and social media discussions, fuelled by debates on how many residents will be able to cope under already difficult economic circumstances.
As of Monday, the price of gasoline increased from $15.15 to $17.50 per gallon, and the price of diesel jumped from $15.23 to $17.25, and with no signs of the price of fuel decreasing globally anytime soon, people may have to start examining austerity measures with greater focus.
Economic commentator Petra Williams explained that while discussions continue about what the government can do to alleviate the squeeze on residents, people must begin to consider how they consume the commodity altogether.
She is advising consumers to “begin to have conversations about how we rationalise our use” of fuel.
“We don’t do that in Antigua. Five of you go to visit a friend and there are nine cars,” she added.
Williams is also encouraging people to push for the policies they want to see implemented in Antigua and Barbuda, since, there is an expectation that an increase in the price of fuel will also lead to other goods and services seeing an increase in price.
“For example, the government has already said they are going to hold strain on public transportation [and fisheries]. What happens to other agricultural products, locally produced?” she queried.
“What happens, perhaps, to encouraging the purchase of more locally produced items so that we could have a better flow of money domestically?” she further questioned, noting that addressing these issues could more favourably impact overall cost of living expenditure.
On Sunday night, the CEO of the West Indies Oil Company, Gregory Georges, encouraged residents to “conserve” since the situation may not abate in the near future.
“See how much you can reduce your intake because we just don’t see this scenario ending any time soon,” he advised during a State media interview.
Meanwhile, pollster and political and social commentator, Peter Wickham, is concerned about how the price of fuel will impact the cost of electricity and water.
“Antigua burns diesel to make [electricity], and you use electricity in terms of pumping water, and your public utilities are publicly owned, which means that government also controls those prices there,” he said, adding that the government will have to “cushion the impact because you cannot increase the cost of those things to people as easily.”
Weeks ago, Prime Minster Gaston Browne warned that the government may have to increase the cost of petroleum products if oil prices on the world market continue to increase.
He has also encouraged residents to be mindful concerning their consumption of the commodity.
Since news broke of the increase, opposition parties have blasted the government for the move.
In a press statement released on Monday, the United Progressive Party’s leader condemned the move as “unconscionable”.
“It was designed to shock an already ‘cash-strapped’ populace that continues to feel the squeeze at the pump as gas prices hit record levels. Three months ago, residents were asked to pay $15.70 per gallon for gasoline – an increase of 25 percent. The new price of $17.50 represents an astronomical 40 percent increase in the price of gasoline since March of this year,” Lovell said.
“The Prime Minister blamed the increase on the war in Ukraine. However, it is noted that the price of oil on the world market today is no higher than it was in March, when the war began. In fact, the price of fuel has been fluctuating, hovering around $120 per barrel.”
Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA), Malaka Parker, said that the government’s decision to raise the price of fuel once gain is “absolutely ludicrous”.
“I find that it is unconscionable that the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party government, in the absence of providing any serious support for the people, would just continue to pass on these high prices in gasoline,” she stated.
Parker continues to call for a thoughtful and coherent approach to managing fuel prices, driven by consultations with the key sectors in the economy.
“What we continue to see is this unilateralism, this highhandedness by the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party in the way it manages this country, which is tantamount to mismanagement,” she said.