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Our View: Petrol prices demo: were they justified?

ÅêäÞëùóç äéáìáñôõñßáò Ðñáôçñéïý÷ùí Õãñþí Êáõóßìùí
Petrol tankers at the demonstration

Petrol station owners blocked Nicosia roads with tankers on Tuesday to protest the loss of business from those smuggling fuel from the north.

They seem to have adjusted their rhetoric. Late last year, the complaint was Greek Cypriots motorists going to fill their tanks. Now it’s fuel smuggling.

There was talk at the time, and again on Tuesday, among populist politicians of checking every car, testing the quality of the petrol or dyeing the fuel bought on this side to distinguish its legality as is done for agricultural diesel. An impossible and ridiculous idea on such a scale.

The energy minister made it very clear on Monday that it is not illegal to fill your tank in the north. Outside of that, he said there would be stricter measures on smuggling.

We are not privy to the scale of this phenomenon and to what extent smugglers are equipped to bring over quantities large enough to cause petrol stations – who never complained when they had the market all stitched up themselves – to claim a 30 per cent drop in sales.

The likelihood is that they want everyone to stop buying petrol in the north, not just smugglers.

Interestingly, the finance minister on Tuesday said measures to clamp down on smuggling were agreed with the petrol station owners six days ago. He said therefore, there was really no reason for the protest.

Additionally, on Tuesday, the statistical service issued its monthly report on fuel sales comparing May 2022 to May 2023 and April to May 2023. The former shows that the sale of diesel rose by 5.8 per cent and petrol by 4 per cent year-on-year, and that between April and May this year diesel sales rose by 16.5 per cent and petrol by 12.8 per cent.

This was due to government subsidies that probably prompted less people to travel north. But the subsidies are ending on Friday, which no doubt will have an impact on fuel sales on this side as prices rise. People are probably strapped enough to buy from smugglers, Cyprus problem be damned.

The return of the consumption tax will mean a price hike of 8.3 cents for petrol and 6.2 cents for diesel and heating oil so the concerns of the petrol station owners are not totally without justification.

But how many in this sector or their family members voted for reunification of the island when they had the chance? Or did self-interest play a part in order to hold on to a captive market at the time?

Why are they not petitioning the presidential palace to reach a Cyprus solution so that the kind of economic distortions and smuggling that currently exist will be relegated to the pages of history?

Instead they are clamouring for money while the two sides argue once again about opening new crossings, which will involve more monitoring, more resources, and more tit-for-tat one-upmanship while the economic cost of division keeps on rearing its ugly head.

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