Belmopan – Prime Minister John Briceño asked Belizeans, who are paying more for basic food items, to bear with his administration as it joined Caricom in seeking a remedy to the high inflation caused by increased global prices for oil and gas.
According to the consumer price index report for May from the Statistical Institute of Belize, the overall cost of goods and services in the Central American nation increased by almost seven per cent in the past year.
“We know what they (the citizens) are going through,” Briceño said. “We understand, and as a government, we are trying to do everything possible to be able to try and help them.
“We are trying to see how we can control the price gouging. We are trying to work on the issues of the duties that are being charged on these products.”
Briceño added: “Even this last first quarter, we had growth of over five per cent. It says something, we are moving in the right direction. As I tell everybody, the best social programme we can have going in Belize is putting people back to work.
“That is what we have been doing, and I want for them to understand that we are doing everything possible to make their lives better, that we every day think about them and trying to find ways to improve lives and make it easier and that we understand and feel for them.”
Oil prices fell more than U.S. $2 on Thursday as investors focussed on the prospect of a large United States rate hike later this month that could stem inflation, but at the same time hit oil demand.
Brent crude futures for September were down U.S. $2.14 to $97.43 a barrel, after settling below U.S. $100 for a second straight session on Wednesday.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for August delivery was at U.S. $93.78 a barrel, down $2.52.
Briceño said he expected the price of fuel on the local market to see a gradual decrease, but the government must first recover the revenues it lost after decreasing the excise duty for diesel and regular gasoline as a relief to Belizeans.
The Ministry of Finance estimated the loss was in excess of U.S. $4 million in the past three months.
“We have to hold on it as long as we possibly can,” he said. “I believe the price of crude oil is starting to go down in the world market. I think yesterday it was at U.S. $90 a barrel. So, with that we expect the prices are starting to go down slowly.
“The idea as I mentioned earlier is to hold it at a price, hold it at where it is right now, and as the acquisition cost of fuel goes down, we still want to hold it to be able to recoup some of the expenses, or the tax dollars we lost.”
He added: “At the end of the day, we do need the revenues to provide these services to the Belizean people. We said from the beginning, and we never shied from that, the idea is to set up a fund from Central Bank, so as we are reducing the tax, we could try to replace it.
“We did not do that right now, but when the prices start to go down, we can keep it there to try to get back some of it, not all of it, some of before we bring down the price of fuel.”