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Protesters take aim at prices

A sign attached to a tuk-tuk parked in front of the Ministry of Economy and Finance
A sign attached to a tuk-tuk parked in front of the Ministry of Economy and Finance during a protest demanding fuel prices be cut yesterday in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Protesters take aim at prices

Tuk-tuk, motorbike and taxi drivers were among hundreds of workers from Cambodia’s “informal economy” who called on the government yesterday to cap fuel prices at 4,000 riel ($1) per litre, amid claims that the current 5,000 riel price leaves them unable to cover any more than daily living costs.

The group rallied outside the Ministry of Economy and Finance, a short walk from Freedom Park, where opposition party supporters protesting against July’s election and garment workers demanding higher wages converged yesterday.

Vorn Pao, the president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, led the splinter demonstration. Pao said people who work in the informal sector – mainly transportation – suffer greatly when fuel prices rise, as they subsequently drive up the cost of food and everyday necessities.

“We are spending a large percentage of income on gasoline. Higher gasoline prices are a key factor in the price of other goods. So, with higher priced goods, low-income earners cannot afford to buy goods from the market,” Pao said.

He added that the association will submit an official letter to the ministry over the coming days, putting its demands in print. Pao’s claims come a month after the Cambodian government ordered customs officials to apply official taxation rates to imports, reportedly causing a 30 per cent price increase on some items.

Several tuk-tuk drivers who were at the protest said gasoline price jumps have become more regular, and many have come to simply expect paying more every time they fill up, despite earning less on the job.

“Since the price of gasoline is high, I can only cover daily expenses. I can’t save for my family,” said Srun Phalla, a 28-year-old tuk-tuk driver who attended the protest yesterday.

According to data from the Ministry of Commerce, Cambodia imported 871,013 tons of gasoline during the first half of the year from Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam. The total value was $825 million.

Chou Vichet, secretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said in the first 11 months this year the government has subsidised $83 million worth of fuel to stabilise gasoline prices.

He would not confirm any future price reduction.

“We need to study what goods should be taxed at a higher rate and what goods should be taxed at a lower rate to facilitate living conditions,” he said. “[We need to know] which goods are necessary and which are not.”

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