Faced with rising gasoline prices, the government is formulating a plan to reduce fuel usage by state employees in an effort to rein in expenditures for 2008.
The government has long covered the gasoline costs ministry employees incur when using vehicles in the course of their work.
Finance Ministry Secretary-General Hang Chuon Naron said Monday that previous gasoline price hikes had already forced the government to cut state expenditures in other areas by about 5 percent.
Now, if gasoline usage by civil servants cannot be decreased, ministries may be forced to cut their consumption, though the exact amount has not yet been determined, he said.
The inability to reduce the government’s gasoline bill could mean that the 2008 budget would have to be recalculated, he added.
Steadily increasing in recent years, gasoline and diesel prices jumped by 10 percent alone at the pump on Nov 5.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon raised the issue at the National Assembly last week. The proposed plan, Keat Chhon said, will call for the punishment of government officials that engage in conspicuous consumption of gasoline or use state money to purchase fuel used for private purposes.
“There must be punishment; we must change their thinking and their behaviors,” Keat Chhon said of such government officials.
“State vehicles and state gasoline are just for missions. Besides that, if they want to go for a trip they must use their own means,” he said outside the Assembly.
Keat Chhon said that ministers would be responsible for determining the administrative punishments handed out within their respective ministries.
He added that the proposed fuel reduction would likely not be placed on the Ministry of Defense because the navy has recently augmented its fleet with several new vessels from China.
The government’s concern over state expenditures on gasoline comes at a time when it has forgone millions of dollars in tax revenue in an effort to keep prices down at the pump.
Hang Chuon Naron said that the government should be taking in $800 in tax per ton of gasoline, but has only been collecting $300 per ton-a figure that Keat Chhon said has not changed since 2001.
Keat Chhon said that these tax breaks will cost the government $170 million this year-nearly 18 percent of the state’s total revenue intake for 2005.
Minister of Rural Development Lu Laysreng said that he supported the initiative to reduce gasoline expenditures, adding that he believed gas usage could be cut in half.
“I want the government to reduce [gasoline expenditures] by 50 percent because officials use 50 percent of the gasoline for work,” he said, adding that even when cars are used for official business there is plenty of waste.
“My ministry can reduce the gasoline consumption. I have noticed that three people use three vehicles” when out on business, Lu Laysreng said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak did not share the same enthusiasm for the Finance Ministry’s plans.
“We have monthly gasoline, so we should be able to take our wives to the market and our children to school. If we are not allowed to do that, it’d be [like] Pol Pot,” he said, but added that it was ultimately up to the government to decide on the matter.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said that in general he supported the plan, but feared it would do little to solve the issue because excessive gas use at the state’s expense is an issue primarily concerning a handful of officials at the highest levels of government.
“The top government officials like the ministers and secretaries of state have lavishly used gasoline,” Yim Sovann said.
However, gasoline reimbursements were sorely needed by the majority of ordinary civil servants, who take home much smaller salaries, he said.
He added that the government’s main concern regarding gasoline should be to reduce the price at the pump.