MSJ: Tax big business, rich to fund fuel subsidy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Activist Dr Wayne Kublalasingh, right, and Uresh Chaitoo joined the MSJ march against increased food and fuel prices in Port of Spain on Saturday. – Angelo Marcelle

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) and trade unions are calling on the government to reverse the rise in fuel prices, find other ways to subsidise the cost and invest in TT to mitigate the high price of food.

MSJ held a small rally at Woodford Square, Port of Spain, on Saturday after a march which started at the Queen’s Park Savannah. MSJ political leader David Abdulah said the march was just the start of the fight for these two issues.

He made several suggestions including raising the taxes of big profitable companies such as Ansa McAl, Angostura, Agostini, Massy, Republic Bank and Scotiabank as well as those with large salaries and using that money to subsidise fuel prices.

“Who have more corn supposed to feed more fowl in this rounds.”

On April 9, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced a $1 price increase in super and premium gas and a 50 cent increase in diesel from April 19 as global oil prices increased by over 60 per cent since last October.

Abdulah said, “The issue is not how you share the burden between government and the people. It’s how you share the burden amongst the people. So the rich are not paying their fair share of the burden in this country. All the burden is going on the backs of working people, poor people, who have not had a wage or salary increase for the last eight or nine years.”

He said paying $40 more on a tank of gas would not bother those working for $50,000 (a month) but it would affect “ordinary working people” including taxi and maxi taxi drivers who would then have to increase fares.

He added that the increase came into effect on the same day school physically reopened for the majority of students for the first time in two years when parents already had to find money for school uniforms and supplies, and for “passage to school.”

He said the problem was a lack of political will because big companies finance the two major political parties.

Abdulah also suggested, in the short term, government invest in the National Flour Mills so the prices of flour and animal feed could be affordable, allowing the prices of bread and meat to be affordable as well. He also encouraged the government to invest in the agriculture sector so TT could provide more food and be less susceptible to international events.

“Farmers are not being supported. But if we grow more yam and cassava and breadfruit and sweet potato, we wouldn’t have to depend on wheat, whether it comes from Ukraine or Russia if in war or not in war, whether it has sun in Australia or snow and storm in the United States and Canada. We wouldn’t have to worry about that if we produced it here in TT and in the Caricom region.”

He said the MSJ will call a meeting of different organisations for a “massive activity” on the issues of fuel and food prices and “other things” that affect the ordinary people of TT.

Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget noted that the rise in fuel cost would affect “every facet” of the cost of living and people’s way of life.

MSJ leader David Abdulah, fourth from right, leads a protest on Saturday against increased food and fuel prices in Port of Spain. – Angelo Marcelle

“It’s time for us to stop the complaining, stop talking about what they do, and prepare to tell everybody what we are prepared to do, supported by like-minded people.”

He singled out the Prime Minister and Imbert for “the hardship that is being borne on the people of TT.” Roget said if the refinery was operational today, using local and imported oil, Petrotrin would have been able to buffer the effects of the worldwide increase in oil and fuel prices.

“They are trying to get away from the fact that their failed policy, one significant action among many others, which was the closure of Petrotrin and the refinery, have us in this (fuel) debacle here today.”

Roget said they should resign or the people of TT should be prepared to vote them out of power for their actions that caused the average person to suffer because of poor governance, arrogance in governance, and because they did not care about things that did not affect them significantly.

In November 2018, government closed Petrotrin because of a multi-billion debt and still plans on restarting the refinery under a new lease operator.

Roget said the trade union movement would not stop until it got the type of justice TT deserves.

As such, on April 30, starting at Paramount building in San Fernando at 9 am, the OWTU is holding its May Day celebrations recognising the trade union movement’s achievements and addressing public issues.