Malaysians are hugely disappointed that the Government has made a complete U-turn on the previously announced proposal for fuel retailers to compete freely at prices below a government-set ceiling price.
"After joint discussions with oil companies, we have agreed to announce the weekly price of petrol and diesel every Wednesday and the price (for the first week under the new system) will be effective March 30," the Minister of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism (KPDNKK) said in a live announcement on RTM1.
Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin said any companies that wished to sell below the weekly ceiling price must seek approval from his ministry. "Petrol dealers that wish to hold promotions and provide discounts on the set price can do so by first seeking approval from KPDNKK.
"All oil companies and petrol dealers are reminded to abide by the new pricing. Stern action will be taken against dealers that sell petrol or diesel at prices other than what is set by the government," he said.
This announcement reversed the earlier announcement by the Second Finance Minister, Dato’ Seri Johari Abdul Ghani and Datuk Hamzah himself.
Bernama has reported on 16 March that the Second Finance Minister, Dato’ Seri Johari Abdul Ghani has said that “although the ceiling price was determined by the government, it was up to the oil companies to sell the petrol and diesel below it”.
This was further to the announcement made by the Minister of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism, Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin on 4 March.
The first sign of a U-turn was when I received a parliamentary reply from the Minister of Finance earlier this week who said that “with regards to the proposal to fix ceiling prices for petroleum products, it is still in the study and evaluation stage which will directly involve several relevant agencies such as the Ministry of Finance and the Minstry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism”.
The sequence of events clearly showed that the Government came under pressure from the oil companies who protested against the policy which allowed them to compete freely.
Although the Minister will claim that on paper, those companies who were interested to sell at a lower price or hold promotions will still be able to do so after obtaining “approval” from KPDNKK, this process will be cumbersome and any applications will be subjected to protests from other oil companies.
Why should these oil companies remain ‘protected’ by the Government when petrol and diesel are no longer subsidised by the tax-payers? What makes these oil and gas companies so special that the deserve special protection compared to other goods and services?
I had previously issued a statement in support of the ‘free competition below ceiling price’ policy because the ultimate beneficiaries of the policy will be the man-on-the-street who are burdened with high fuel prices and that of other essential goods and services. Competition will allow more efficient petrol companies to offer lower prices to consumers.
The biggest winners to the Government’s policy now are Petronas, Shell, BHP, Petron and Caltex – as they effectively form a cartel to control petrol prices via a Government’s fixed price.
Such a policy will contradict the spirit and intent of the Competition Act which forbids price-fixing and monopolistic practices in nearly all of the other industries. Even trade associations such as the Coffee Shop Association have been told that “fixing” coffee or tea prices – which have been their practice for decades – is now illegal under the Act.
We call upon the Government to prioritise the interest of the rakyat who are burdened with increasing prices of essential goods and services, and not that of big corporates like oil and gas companies.