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PM urges local petroleum firms to stop price gouging

PM urges local petroleum firms to stop price gouging

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p14_story1.jpg

Hun Sen has attacked local petroleum companies, saying they are using the global financial crisis as an excuse to rip off consumers

Tracey Shelton

Hun Sen has pressured petroleum companies to lower prices as a way of reducing economic pressure on the poor. Cambodia’s pump prices are higher than in both Thailand and Vietnam.

THE prime minister has lashed out at the Kingdom's petroleum companies, accusing them of price gouging and strongly urging they lower the price of petrol at the pump immediately. 

"Push [the prices] down [because] when fuel prices increase, it affects everything," Hun Sen said during a scholarship award ceremony for 500  students in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

The prime minister warned companies that global financial turmoil was no excuse to raise prices.

"It is an American financial crisis and some American banks face problems, but it shouldn't be pumping up the price of fuel here," he said. He added that they cannot blame international market turmoil.

 After a period of hikes, local fuel prices have stabilised at around 5,000 riel a litre, but have not decreased even as international crude prices dropped to around US$100 per barrel from a record high in mid-July of around $145 a barrel for crude.

Order, don't ask

Union leader Rong Chhun said he welcomed Hun Sen's efforts to push down petrol prices but said the prime minister needed to go further.

"He is the prime minister, he should not just make the same request [to lower petrol prices] again and again, he must use his power to order the petroleum companies to lower prices," he said.

Rong Chhun urged the prime mnister to use price caps to reduce the price of petrol. Companies should be allowed to make a reasonable profit but not to price gouge, he said, adding that skyrocketing fuel prices have dealt a major blow to already cash-strapped civil servants.

Rong Chhun said the price of fuel in Cambodia should be a maximum of 3,800 riel or 4,000 per liter and warned that gas prices were one of the key issues voters would use to assess the performance of the new government.

"I think all voters are watching [Hun Sen] who is leading a country alone, for good or bad, we will see," Rong Chhun said.

He also warned that the some 400-plus members of the Council of Ministers should be forced to reduce the percentage of the national budget spent on subsidised fuel for government officials.

"If the government can reduce how much it spends subsidising petrol for officials, the country will have enough money to increase salaries of teachers," Rong Chhun said.

Pump prices in Phnom Penh on Thursday stood at 4,900 riel per litre (Sokimex) and 5,050 per litre (Caltex and Total).

Seng Chung Ly, network manager for Total, declined comment on whether the company would be reducing prices in accordance with the prime minister's request. An official at Sokimex was too busy to comment on Thursday. 

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