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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Government moves to end price gouging as gasoline prices hit record highs

Government moves to end price gouging as gasoline prices hit record highs

gasoline.jpg
gasoline.jpg

Tracey Shelton

Pump prices remain at records highs, hovering just below 6,000 riels per liter.

Finance Minister Keat Chhon has ordered a special ministry committee to be formed to monitor the price of gasoline amid fears the fuel companies were gouging prices, which have crept towards record highs of 6,000 riels ($1.50) a liter during the past few days, a ministry official said.

The move, announced June 4, was the first time the government has intervened directly to try and ease spiraling gas prices, which have also driven up the cost of food and other consumer goods.

Finance Secretary of State Chea Peng Chheang told the Post that the ministry was worried that fuel companies were taking advantage of skyrocketing global oil costs to unfairly raise local pump prices

The new committee, while not putting caps on prices, would "work closely" with the fuel companies to determine how much should be charged for gasoline and diesel.

“Petroleum companies need not ask the ministry how much to raise prices, but they need to make sure they are not charging over market value,” he said.

The committee will also assess the cost of other consumer goods, which have risen sharply.

"The ministry just wants to understand why a company decides to raise prices for this or that, but the ministry will never interfere with a company's pricing decisions ... it is a free market in Cambodia," Chheang said.

Officials from fuel companies participating in the June 4 meeting with the finance minister said they welcomed the creation of the committee.

“I think the ministry wants to know the price of gasoline to make sure that petroleum companies are not overcharging,” said Hour Heng, vice president of the Cambodian fuel giant Sokimex.

“We accept the request of the ministry to control the price of gasoline and diesel,” he said. “It is an acceptable idea."

But they also pointed out that their pricing decisions were driven largely by international oil prices.

“We can’t predict future international oil prices and are not sure if the price of fuel in Cambodia will increase," Heng said, while Stephane Dion, managing director for Total Cambodge, wrote an email on June 5: “This is a simple question of supply and demand."

The government has already tried to curb the price of gasoline by not raising the tariff on imported fuel – a move that officials say will cost the government $300 million in uncollected tax revenue.

Diesel is currently taxed at $103 per ton, while the per ton tax on gasoline is $254.

Some one million tons of petroleum products, including gasoline and diesel, are imported each year into Cambodia, according to industry officials.

Even with this measure in place, fuel company officials say they are making very little money.

According to a senior official at Tela Kampuchea Company who did not want to be named, global oil costs have reduced the company's profits to about 200 riels per liter.

 “We only make a little profit – many people do not know that," he said.

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