In a brewing war over the ice business in Kompong Chhnang province, an ice wholesaler alleged Monday that a monopoly of competitors bribed local officials to put the big freeze on her more competitive business.
Provincial officials who have become embroiled in the controversy countered Monday by saying they were only trying to keep illegal imports of ice out of their province.
“Where is the free market and fair trade?” complained Buth Khom, a driver for ice wholesaler Lay Muoy, who claims that officials received money from rival producers to shut her down.
Ice producers in Kompong Chhnang province currently sell slabs of ice for $1.50 per 50-kg block. That’s a hefty price compared to the $0.75 per block in the nearby town of Odong in Kompong Speu province.
In a bid to crack the provincial ice trade, Kompong Chhnang province ice wholesaler Lay Muoy began importing ice from Odong.
But on Sunday, Lay Muoy said, police seized two of her ice-filled minivans, letting 100 blocks of ice melt for 12 hours before releasing the cargo.
Heang Sophal, one of three Kompong Chhnang province ice producers, said Monday that Lay Muoy is “illegally” undercutting his business.
Allowing cheaper ice into Kompong Chhnang would drive local producers out of business, Heang Sophal said.
According to Heang Sophal, Kompong Chhnang ice producers labor under five separate government fees to produce ice and are forced to pay officials who oversee water supply, hygiene, environment, commerce and even taxation.
The tax and competition is “kicking us out of business,” he said.
Kompong Chhnang Police Chief Touch Narath denied any bribery was involved in the operation to shut down the ice wholesaler, and said his men were acting to end illegal imports of ice into the province.
Touch Narath did not say what laws had been broken but added that a meeting would be held this week to examine the dispute.