Angered at rising gasoline prices, local motorbike taxi drivers have sent notice to the municipal government that they will protest early next month—a move Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said Monday he would support.
“Why do gas prices go up so high so quickly?” asked Ul Chruong, one of 30 taxi drivers named in a petition of complaint sent to the government.
Though there has been no sudden increase in local gas prices, they have gradually risen as global inventories of crude oil dwindle and worldwide demand begins to outweigh supplies, an industry official said.
Taxi drivers are demanding that gasoline prices be reduced to about 1,500 riel per liter, saying that increasing prices are hurting business. Prices for regular gas currently are hovering around 2,000 riel per liter.
Municipal officials said Sunday they are worried the protest, which organizers claim may draw at least 500 taxi drivers, will create traffic problems along its downtown Phnom Penh route.
“The number of real protesters will be small, but onlookers will contribute to traffic jams,” said one official who did not want to be named.
But Chea Sophara downplayed the anticipated April 3 protest, saying, “[taxi drivers] have a right to do this according to the law. I also agree on this.”
Several taxi drivers interviewed earlier this week said they did not know about the planned demonstration but would participate if it occurs.
“I would even drop my customer to join the protest,” said driver Vong Buntheun.
Some taxi drivers have blamed government officials for raising gas prices for the benefit of station owners. But industry analysts say global oil prices and high tariffs placed on imported petroleum products by the Cambodian government are the real cause of the increased cost.
A tripling of oil cost worldwide has translated into an approximately $0.16 per liter increase in the cost of local gasoline in the last year, according to Kit Heffner, general manager of Caltex.
Heffner said a reduction in tariffs charged on imported petroleum products would cause an almost “immediate” drop in gasoline costs, pointing out at least a third of the per liter price goes to paying for import taxes.
Dropping tariffs was first discussed last year as a solution to curbing the huge volumes of cheaper petroleum products smuggled into Cambodia from neighboring countries. Smuggling is estimated to cost the government $800,000 a month in lost tax revenue and forces local fuel producers undercut by the illegal trade to raise their prices.