Couva North MP, Ravi Ratiram is questioning why the Rowley-led Government refuses to re-visit and revise the outdated and inadequate fuel rebate paid to our fisherfolk.
Ratiram raised the issue in light of the expected increase in the price of fish as the 2023 Lenten season progresses.
He said: “At present, the rebate has stood unchanged over the course of decades at 10 cents on diesel, 12 cents on gasoline and 75 cents on oil, while fishermen have had to bear the lash of FIVE INCREASES in fuel prices under this uncaring Rowley-led Government.”
MP Ratiram raised this point during the Standing Finance Committee’s deliberations following the 2022/2023 budget debate in the Parliament, holding both the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister to account over the lack of financial support measures for our fisherfolk.
MP Ratiram’s concern related to line item ‘02 Incentive Programme’, under the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Draft Estimates of Expenditure which is a provision for the payment of a subsidy to fishermen via a fuel rebate.
In a release, he said, Prime Minister Keith Rowley in his budget contribution last year promised that he was going to review it when he stated, “I know that in the Ministry there are provisions for some relief for fishermen with respect to fuel. I understand that it is not being fully utilized. We are going to look at it, again, Madam Speaker, and to see what kind of support we can give to fishermen, because they have a case that we must look at.”
MP Ratiram asked Agriculture Minister Kazim Hosein in January for an update on the promised review, only to learn that the Minister was clueless about what was taking place. Such is the level of commitment from this Rowley-led Government towards our Agriculture and Fisheries sector!
On March 2nd, 2023, a Newsday Newspaper article carried the headline, “Tobago fishermen warn of drastic increase in prices”. In it, President of the All Tobago Fisherfolk Association (ATFA), Curtis Douglas lamented the Government’s multiple increases in fuel prices and his Association’s discontent with the Rowley-led Administration’s inability to pay the fuel rebate to fisherfolk. In the article, Mr. Douglas further stated that the fishermen of his Association were not satisfied with current subsidies offered by the THA Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries, which are set by Central Government through the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries.
Last year January, the average wholesale price of Carite was $34/lb in March 2022 as compared to $40/lb in March 2023. Similarly, from the end of last year, Kingfish was listed at $37/lb and is now $45/lb and Redfish from $29/lb in March last year to $35/lb (prices according to NAMDEVCO Wholesale Fish Market prices).
The Newsday article cited the ATFA President as saying that the prices of fish rose to $35/lb and could head further upwards to $45 and $50 per pound. In Trinidad, checks with fishermen from South and Central Trinidad show the current price of fish to be between $35 to $45 per pound however, fishermen warned that they would not be able to sustain these prices owing to both economic hardships and adverse sea conditions. Like their Tobagonian counterparts, they too are advising of impending price increases in the coming weeks.
Ratiram condemns what is evidently this Rowley-led Government’s cruel abandonment of our fisherfolk; an important community who constantly put their lives at risk in order to help satisfy our nation’s food demands and our security.
He said Rowley’s scant regard and disrespect meted out to fisherfolk by way of his many fuel price increases and his Government’s lack of a plan and complete inaction is drowning the fishing industry.
Ratiram once again calls on the Prime Minister and his Government to demonstrate some modicum of compassion and revise and re-implement the fuel subsidy so that this aspect of our national food supply can be made more affordable to the population.