NGO Proposes Cheaper Gas for Pchum Ben

A local NGO has asked six major petroleum companies to lower their prices at the pump during the three main days of the Pchum Ben festival, a request company representatives said Tues­day was beyond their power to grant.

In a letter dated Monday to the presidents of Kampuchea Tela Co Ltd, Sokimex, Caltex, Total, PTT and Petronas, National Culture and Social Moral Center President Po Samnang asked the companies to lower gas prices from the current standard of $0.75 per liter to $0.63 per liter, from Oct 12 to Oct 14—a time when millions of Cambodians will travel to their native villages and pagodas to pay respects to their ancestors.

“If the companies can do this, it means that the souls of people will be happy,” Po Samnang said Tuesday.

Appealing directly to the petroleum companies seems the only route left for those still willing to protest gas prices, Po Samnang said, in the wake of violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrations against fuel prices. “I don’t think we have another choice beside bowing our heads to all Oknha, presidents of the petroleum companies. We can’t deal with the government anymore. They will never help us,” he said.

Sokimex president Sok Kong said Tuesday he will consider the center’s request, but said it was doubtful that his company will comply. “My company earns less than 200 riel per liter” sold at the stations, he said. Were the company to lower the price by 500 riel as requested, “we would lose mo­ney,” he said. Tela president Moeung Kom­pak declined to comment when reached by telephone Tuesday. Other company presidents could not be contacted.

However, other local business leaders blasted the government’s stance that it is helpless to lower fuel costs in the face of rising oil prices worldwide.

At a business forum Monday, local tycoon Mong Reththy criticized remarks by Ministry of Finance secretary-general Hang Chuon Naron, who told the forum that the global oil price of $50 per barrel meant that affordable gas was beyond the Cambodian government’s control.

“If we all raise the gasoline issue, the government will help to solve the fuel price” problem, Mong Reththy said. “If you don’t put the problem in front of you, the matter won’t ever be solved.”

Last week, Finance Minister Keat Chhon said the government lacked the financial capital to subsidize fuel costs for consumers.

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