Crossing Cambodia

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

On pricing petrol

As promised Crossing Cambodia returns to an earlier article originally from the Phnom Penh Post on pricing policy of petrol.

In short while the world price of oil is dropping (25% off the mid-July peak), the price of petrol in Cambodia is not decreasing. The article then goes on to allege possible corruption in the fuel supply industry in Cambodia. It reefers to opposition leader and former minister of Finance, Sam Rainsy, who alleges that importers do not pay taxes to the government but do charge taxes from consumers. Additionally he points out that the amount of petrol being imported has not changed since 1992 / 1993, though the number of vehicles has increased many-fold. Unnamed officials at the Ministry of Commerce confirms that there is an import tax on petrol. They also suspect a discrepancy between what is officially imported and that what is being consumed, possibly due to illegal imports from Thailand / Vietnam. Rainsy even alleges that the army might be in the game.

If anything is clear from this article it is that it is not clear. Petrol in Cambodia is sold through petrol stations. The main players are Tela and Sokimex from Cambodia and foreign controlled operations such as Caltex, Total, Shell, Petronas and PTT. Besides this there are numerous smaller pumps on every street corner (esp. in Phnom Penh) selling from hand-pumps and from the bottle! These smaller pumps are very popular despite questions about the quality of supply andsafety isues. The reason is that they charge roughly 25% less. Now how is this possible? Partly this is because there is a lot of small scale smuggling from Vietnam where subsidies ensure that the price there is a third cheaper than in Cambodia. Vietnam is very motivated to stop this smuggling but says that the Mekong Delta is very difficult to police. Possibly there is some collusion of local officials both sides of the border to assist the smugglers. What's more surprising is that it is even officially known that most of these street stalls sell illegally imported fuel, that the fuel quality is questionable and that all this fuel on the side of the street is not enhancing public safety, despite all this nothing is being done about it. The bad news is that Vietnam wants to get rid of the subsidies!

So what about the official data? Cambodia's Ministry of Commerce simply does not publish import statistics just export data. Both from World Bank and ADB web sites it is impossible to find the current level of fuel importation, again both focussing on exporting. So we have to do with the data supplied in the article. In 1993 100,000 tons of petrol were imported (Rainsy) . In 2005 Cambodia imported '19,780 tons of gasoline and diesel'. So official statistics record a drop of 80% in nearly 12 years! Despite for instance the number of officially registered vehicles increasing the past year by 140% (Crossing Cambodia August 2006 with reference to an article in The Phnom Penh Post). So something is going on. The general public are being scammed by some unscroupolous persons, how come?
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