Slimier than slime

Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies Shyam Sundar Gupta confirmed the reason

for deliberately created oil crisis in the country, even after the hefty price hike introduced a few weeks ago. Speaking in the parliament on Sunday, he stressed the need to adjust the domestic retail prices of petroleum products to their international prices as the way to end the acute oil shortage. It is for the government to decide how best to make oil available in the country at all times and in the quantity demanded - by raising the prices, by subsidising the products, by reducing the taxes on oil, by opening the oil trade up to private investors, by diversifying supply, by tapping alternative energy, or by any combination of these measures. But adequate supply it must guarantee. The government, through its fully owned Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), has the sole authority to import and distribute the petroleum products throughout Nepal — petrol, diesel, kerosene, LPG and aviation fuel.

Even when products of daily necessity handled wholly by the private sector become scarce, any responsible government steps in to facilitate their easy availability. But when such essential and strategic commodities like diesel and petrol have continued to be in acute short supply — not for three days, three weeks or three months — but for three years and yet the government continues to indulge in excuses for its inability to supply adequately, then its fitness for where it is now must be seriously called in question. The supplies minister is not the only person responsible — even more so are the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister. If NOC has had to sell the products at a loss, it is the obligation of the government to meet the deficit. The economy and the people have incurred huge losses owing to the prolonged shortages. But the government has taken the easiest way out — by importing much less than the demand, and thus cutting the loss. These are by no means moral and responsible responses from a democratic government that had been installed in office by a historic people’s movement.

The minister had to explain the situation in the House only after a number of CA members belonging to thirteen small parties gheraoed the rostrum, calling for an end to the crisis. Another big consequence of the prolonged crisis has been the proliferation of the black market, where dealers, brokers and employees have fattened, and the consumers been routinely cheated not only in price but in quality too, because often they have got the adulterated product. The last time the oil price was raised, the world price was close to US$140 per barrel, then NOC still claimed that, with the hike, its monthly loss would come down to something like Rs.1.5 billion rupees, and it is now saying that if the full quantity of oil is to be imported and sold at the current fixed prices, its monthly loss would still work out to over Rs.1 billion as per the latest oil bills. However, now the world oil price has declined to $115 per barrel. The world market is volatile, but the government needs to adopt an effective strategy for ensuring oil supply regardless of world market behaviour. The government cannot get away with mere excuses.