Week 551 – 2008-03-16: It Is Crucial to Reduce the Waste of Energy

Posted on 17 March 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 551 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 551

Since many months we have regularly news about the high and rising price of gasoline, and the negative impact that this has on the cost of other goods – as the fuel paid for the transportation of all kinds of goods results in higher prices for many other goods and services.

It is understandable that this leads to problem for the majority of the population, coping with different levels of economic stress. What does it mean to speak of the majority of the population? Even if the estimation of one paper, that about ten percent of Cambodian citizens own almost 90 percent of the land may be not correct and exaggerated, it is a widely agreed upon fact that the dynamics of land ownership in Cambodia have created social tensions. If this would not be more and more critical, the Prime Minister would not have warned that the newly rich people, who gained their wealth from trading in land, should not be overjoyed.

But while it is true that the increasing price of fuel leads to many other increasing problems, it has to be seen that the increase of fuel in Cambodia has been quite moderate, compared to the increase of the price of the most important raw material: crude oil.

In mid October 2005, the price per barrel – the unit for crude oil, 1 barrel corresponding to 158.984 liters, or 42 US gallons – stood at around US$55. At present it is above US$105 – an increase of 90 percent, almost to the double, over a period of two-and-a-half years. It would be interesting and helpful if those, who criticize the government for not reducing the price of gasoline in Cambodia, or for not preventing that it increased in Cambodia – it increased much less than 90 percent while it almost doubled on the world market – would also propose suggestions how this could have been achieved. The price of crude oil on the world market has been gradually increasing as the world is waking up to the fact that the environment is limited, and the present trend to use more and more resources will, for the foreseeable future, lead to increasing prices for the limited resources available.

More and more researchers and leaders in other countries have therefore taken the bold step to propose a solution for ever rising energy prices by dealing not with problem of the price – somewhat artificially, by subsidies to be taken away from other necessities. But by taking up the problem where a society has the possibility to make choices: by considering which use of energy is important, and which could be considered to be extravagant or even waste.

As the Cambodian government has no way to control the price of crude oil on the world market, the Prime Minister issued a circular to tighten the use of electricity. As it is the case with other similar regulations, unfortunately the announcement does not make it clear who is actually responsible for implementation, and which measures will be taken to rectify or to punish violations. It has to be carefully observed and discussed at many different levels of society to assure its implementation, which include among others:

All institutions should help to save electricity – who will monitor this in “all institutions”?
Air conditioners should be set at 25 degrees centigrade, not lower. Air conditioners should be turned off 30 minutes before an office is closed – again, will this work without clear arrangements for monitoring? And will the monitoring also help to stop the practice of having air conditioners running and at the same time a door or some windows open?
Except on national holidays, electricity should be on only on one side of the road, or only half of the lights should be turned on. Electricity must be used in an economical manner – will this also lead to less use of electricity for decorative or advertisement purposes? Will the many trees – beautifully – illuminated along many roads in Phnom Penh at high cost, surely in part from public funds of the municipality, while many people in the provinces have very limited or no electricity, return to their natural darkness?

Should it be considered surprising that the circular also admonishes the authorities to eliminate illegal connections to public electricity lines, and it points to the fact that there are officials who are accomplices to stealing electricity, or who collude with users to reduce the measured quantity of use, different from its real value? Or are these words of the Prime Minister just a realistic reminder that such illegalities still continue for years and years, in spite of having been identified long ago as not acceptable?

It should then not be surprising that the US Department of State speaks again of impunity of Khmer powerful people, when also the Prime Minister has to castigate the continuation of such brazen faced acts of personal enrichment, when it comes to the theft of a scarce and expensive energy resource.

Already at the beginning of the year, on 3 January 2008, the Prime Minister advised state institutions, including the military, to save fuel, suggesting among other measures that when his officials follow him going to the same destination, all of them should reduce the number of cars , three or four should take only one car, in order to save fuel. It is not clear to the public that this directive has had much effect. All the more it will be important to see that the last circular for the saving of energy – the saving of scarce and expensive resources – does not get disregarded.

We would be happy to mirror reports soon how this is being done.

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