By Constantinos Psillides
Petrol stations will now be required by government decree to publish their prices through an app meaning it will be easy for the public to know where to go to buy the cheapest petrol.
Energy minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis said his ministry is in the process of launching a web and smart phone app that will inform the public of petrol station prices. It is expected to go online in a month.
Through the decree signed by the minister petrol station owners will have to update their prices through the app.
“This way we improve transparency and put the necessary tools in the hands of the consumers so they can make the choice that is best for them,” the minister said following a meeting on Tuesday with consumers’ bodies to discuss petrol pricing.
Lakkotrypis said this is the first step in a comprehensive plan to deal with high fuel prices.
The ministry is also in the late stages of a process to hire private consultants to help form a plan to effectively monitor fuel import prices.
Consumers’ bodies said during a previous meeting with the minister that the current legislation is too ambiguous, allowing fuel import companies to profit with little oversight.
The issue is included in the auditor-general’s 2013 report, where the official had flagged the way importers’ margins are calculated. Currently, it is understood, the ‘reasonable profit margin’ is declared every year by each of the companies, and the government goes along with whatever figures the companies cite.
The auditor-general had recommended then instead that the profit margin be determined by a government-appointed panel, which would study in detail the companies’ expenses (fuel plus operating costs) and come up with an appropriate profit margin.
Lakkotrypis also said he will focus on improving competition both in the wholesale and the retail market.
To that effect, the minister said the government is “at the final stages of a strategic plan on how we would like the fuel market in Cyprus to look in the next year, with the introduction of low-cost petrol stations and automated petrol stations.”
In January, after months of falling, the price of crude climbed from $45 per barrel to near $50. Almost overnight, petrol stations in Cyprus jacked up their prices by 10 cents a litre. When the price fluctuations are reversed, it takes weeks to see a difference on the ground.
In mid-January, the Commission for the Protection of Competition launched a sector-wide probe to determine possible market distortions. The probe is not directed at any particular fuel wholesaler or retailer and needs more time to be completed.
By Constantinos Psillides