MORE than 400 moto-taxi drivers including government civil servants rode through
the city early this month demanding that the government lower the price of petrol.
"Increasing the price of gasoline is increasing poverty," one of the banners
The protesters went to Olympic Stadium, the Council of the Ministers, the Ministry
of Finance, and to the French Embassy where opposition leader Sam Rainsy joined them.
The demonstrators said the low salaries the government paid caused many civil servants
to take on extra jobs in the moto-taxi business to get income to support their family.
They demanded that the price of petrol be lowered from the present 2100 riel to 1500
per liter so they could earn a living with moto-taxis.
"The money I earned is just enough to pay for the gasoline; I have not got any
benefit," said So Dara, a professor of Ta Kmao High School, who joined the demonstration.
"The gasoline can be increased any time. But for us, we cannot increase the
price for our clients. If we increase the fee of the transportation the clients will
not take our moto-taxis."
Finance Minister Kiet Chhon said the price rise was not the fault of the government
but resulted from worldwide price increases.
He said Cambodia does not produce petroleum like neighboring Vietnam and Thailand;
all its gasoline is imported from overseas.
Sok Kung, of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, who is also the owner of petroleum
company Sokimex, agreed with the finance minister, but said his company had lowered
the price by 200 riel a liter but had to convince other companies to follow.
He said his business is losing because he bought at a high price then sold at a lower
price to satisfy his clients.
Te Duong Dara, Director of the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority (CNPA) said
the price of gasoline had increased during 1999 from $10-to-$15 a barrel to $23-$30.
"In fact the price of the gasoline had increased since late 1998 but no one
was interested. It was the right time for people to demonstrate against the increases
at that time," Dara said.
He said Cambodia has only two entry points for petroleum imports: Shihanoukville,
and Phnom Penh port.
He said the government should open more entry points to help lower the price.
He saw several reasons for the price increases: the economic crisis in Asia in recent
years, high government tax, and especially global oil price rises.
An information official of a petroleum company who asked not to be named claimed
the government had charged high tax, and there was also bureaucratic corruption.
She said the company pays $300 cash to buy one tonne of gasoline, then pays another
$300 in tax.
Also, the company had spent more money to transport the gasoline to stations in provinces
far from Phnom Penh like Battamabng, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri, Svay Rieng and so on.
She said if the government opened more entry points with Vietnam and Thailand it
would make transport easier for the company and the price would be cheaper.
She said in 1998, all the petroleum companies had a meeting with the government and
asked to open the border pass at Poipet because that way is cheap and easy to transport
gasoline into Cambodia's northern provinces. But the government did not agree.
The government official who participated at the meeting after the demonstration (who
asked not to be named) said the government cannot order the petroleum companies to
decrease the price if the international price is not decreased.
"We can not order the companies to decrease the price because they bought at
a high price too. If we order the companies to lower prices they will close down