100 strong protest ‘Gas Pain’

By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor

The “gas pain” issue which motorists have been complaining about for the past several months became centre stage on Wednesday morning, when about 100 spirited protesters, bearing placards and Belizean flags, joined the Belize Leaders for Social Justice and social activist, Raymond Rivers, for a march from Constitution Park to Battlefield Park in Belize City.
While steep fuel prices as high as $12 per gallon triggered the protest, the participants also used one-line chants to denounce other issues of national concern. Under a downpour that inundated some of the streets, they marched through the flood chanting phrases including: “Gas price too high”, “corruption too high”, “cost of living too high”, “murder rate too high”, “poverty rate too high”, “nepotism too high”, “reform or resign”, and “GSU must go!”

Raymond Rivers, who has been critical of the government on his Facebook page, was adamant in his call for cheaper fuel, the elimination of corruption and equal justice for all. He was joined by members of the opposition, People’s United Party (PUP), led by party leader, John Briceno.

Moses Sulph, who heads the social justice group, told the Reporter that they are not calling for the government to lower the fuel prices by a few cents, but for the prices to be lowered to cost not more than $8 per gallon. For Sulph, the Prime Minister’s announcement last week that fuel prices would be reduced was too broad a statement.
“The incantation of the Prime Minister doesn’t work on us,” Sulph stated. “Many [of the people] in my group are as educated as he is and more intelligent, so he saying gas price will go down is not going to fool us. Yes, it can go down to $11, $10 or by 10 cents [per gallon].”

Aside from taking down fuel prices to $8, Sulph is also making another demand of the government. He is giving them until next Wednesday to make the price adjustments, or else!
“Our next move? Continue people pressure,” he stressed, not concerned that the turnout for the protest was considerably few in number. He surmised that the reason for the poor showing was based on several factors.
“We are aware of the climate, we are in of victimization and most Belizeans are just not going to get up, no matter how much they are dissatisfied,” Sulph lamented.

The group’s calculations for reduced prices are based on a breakdown, which shows that government collects around 40 percent off each gallon of fuel that is sold at the pump. It is also based on the current prices of fuel in other countries in the region – an average of $7.50 per gallon.
PUP Leader Briceno owns a gas station, and debunked the notion that higher fuel prices means higher profits for service station owners. He said nothing is further from the truth.

“Actually we make less because we end up selling less fuel because people can less afford to buy more fuel,” Briceno explained. “The pump price is set by government. And we have to follow the law. We have a margin, but if the price goes up, our margin does not increase. It is the tax that is going up. It is because the Prime Minister needs to have…over $5 per gallon on fuel.”

Briceno said he took part in the protest as a concerned citizen, joining an effort for a common cause, rather than to mobilize his party supporters for a political show.
At his last press conference , Prime Minister Dean Barrow said that the price of fuel would go down at the next shipment from our supplier, Venezuela, but he stopped short of saying by how much those prices would be reduced.
The Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry also welcomes the Prime Minister’s public assurance that pump prices of fuel will drop by mid October.

The Chamber issued a release stating that it is time to seriously examine a national tax reform strategy to revise the various tax regimes and design them to support investment, encourage job creation and facilitate exports.

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