Former Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides has slammed down hard on the narrative propagated through the media – that it was MPs who ‘saved the day’ by passing legislation in the nick of time extending the reduction of fuel excise tax.
“It’s just a load of nonsense,” Petrides said when contacted by the Cyprus Mail.
The tax relief measure had been in place since March 7, 2022; then in September parliament extended it to the end of this February, and on February 22 the outgoing cabinet had approved a further extension until April 30, 2023.
But the story told in the media was that of a government ‘fumble’. Namely, that the Finance Ministry then dropped the ball, so to speak, by delaying to forward to parliament the bill renewing the tax reduction – whereas every day counted. The notion put out there was that the outgoing government had slackened off in its last days.
As a result, February 28 came around and – absent a renewal of the reduced fuel tax regime – the full tax kicked back in automatically as of March 1.
Then on Thursday, March 2, an extraordinary session of the House plenary was convened – specifically to vote on the fuel tax reduction bill. The bill passed by a unanimous vote.
On the House floor, MPs – including Annita Demetriou of the Disy party – engaged in what could be called grandstanding and self-congratulation, saying that it was thanks to their own fast reflexes that consumers would be spared paying the full excise tax on fuel.
And they pointed the finger at the government of Nicos Anastasiades for dragging its feet.
In her own remarks, Diko MP Christiana Erotokritou – who also chairs the House finance committee – thanked her colleagues from all parties for coming together quickly to fix the issue.
“Consensus was necessary so that the bill went to the plenum, allowing taxpayers not to pay an extra cent more than necessary – be it for one, two or ten days,” she said.
But Petrides rubbished this version of events.
“We [the outgoing government] didn’t waste any time. I don’t recall the exact date – maybe February 23 – but almost immediately after the cabinet approved the renewal of the [tax] reduction, we sent the relevant bill on to parliament, and via the normal route,” the ex-minister said.
“They [parliament] could have tabled the bill at the plenum anytime from February 24 to February 28. But they didn’t. They could have had a vote on the bill on the very day of the investiture of the new president, on Tuesday [February 28′]. After all, it counted as a plenary session of the House.”
Asked whether the Green Monday holiday and the long weekend may have got in the way, the minister said no.
“The House plenum can convene at anytime; they could’ve done it even on Green Monday had they wanted to.”
On whether MPs may have contrived the affair so as to later take credit for acting for the benefit of consumers, Petrides said he could not comment.
“I don’t know. But what I do know, is that they’re plain wrong – it wasn’t the [previous] government’s fault.
“Not is it the first time that they [parliament] behave in this way. Let them assume their responsibilities and not hide behind someone else.”