In an effort to calm public concern over the rising cost of rice, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday announced that Cambodia was in the middle of a rice surplus and blamed high prices, in part, on “economic sabotage” by anti-government elements.
Speaking at a pagoda inauguration in Kompong Thom province, Hun Sen claimed that individuals were spreading false rumors at markets that there was a rice shortage and he was planning to set rice prices at 5,000 riel per kilogram.
“The administration must take action against those who wage this psychological warfare,” Hun Sen said of these alleged rumormongers, whom he did not identify. “Please arrest them; this is economic sabotage.”
The prime minister added that goods are becoming more costly because of international oil prices, which are beyond the government’s control.
In Phnom Penh, rice is currently selling for around 2,200 to 4,000 riel per kilogram, depending on its quality, according to market vendors.
The prime minister said that the government currently has a reserve stockpile of 200,000 tons of rice, signifying a surplus, not a shortage.
“Please, people, be calm,” Hun Sen said. “Ask yourself, ‘Do you have rice?’ Please go check the markets.”
Hun Sen also rejected appeals he said he had received asking the government to set the price of goods in the market to combat the effects of inflation.
“Some people asked the government to set the price of goods; it [would] mean we are stepping backwards to set prices. It is a [use of] force,” he said, adding that price fixing was the mark of a communist country, not a democracy.
Free Trade Union President Chea Mony, who had recently appealed to Hun Sen to lower the cost of goods in the markets, said by telephone Tuesday that he did not accept the prime minister’s explanation of the rising price of foodstuffs. He said that because the government appeared unwilling to decrease prices or grant garment workers a raise in the minimum wage, his 80,000 union members would strike on Thursday at 150 factories.
“There are two choices: The government must decrease inflation [and] if the government cannot set the prices at the market the prime minister can just increase the workers’ salaries,” he said.
SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said that the government is ignoring the issue of inflation, and called on the state to lower taxes on goods and gasoline.
He warned that the SRP will plan a massive demonstration if the government doesn’t announce plans to combat inflation by the end of the month.
Phou Puy, president of the Cambodian Rice Federation, said that the price of good-quality rice has increased by $200 per ton in the past year to $750. He added that there are no shortages of rice, and that rice prices were on the rise worldwide, driving up the domestic price.
“It is up to the free market,” he said. “The price goes up according to the foreign market.”