Saturday, May 31, 2008

Thais feel the pinch of costly petrol

The two petrol stations just outside the immigration checkpoint were packed with Thai vehicles yesterday.

Motorists from north of the border wanted to fill up one more time before a proposed ban on the sale of petrol and diesel to foreigners takes effect.

The scene at the stations was at times chaotic, with an endless flow of Thai-registered cars, pick-ups and motorcycles coming in to fill up before going home, where the price is double of what they pay here.

The queues were so long that motorists were forced to park on the roadside to wait their turn.

One petrol station closed for two hours at noon to save some stock for the locals, but once it reopened the flow continued.

While the ban will deter those who come solely to get cheap fuel, others like Thai businesswoman Latifah Hussein from Narathiwat, said she travels regularly to Kelantan and Kuala Lumpur to check on her businesses.

Since the ban covers a 50-kilometre radius, she worries about getting enough fuel to do her rounds through Pasir Mas and Kota Baru.

"I thought the ban only applied to Rantau Panjang. I have to fill up before coming here and it will be expensive. Normally, I fill up once I get here because it's cheaper."

For the past six months Amah Yusoh and his wife Romuela Samah, from Narathiwat, have worked as tappers on a rubber estate here.

They were on their way home for a funeral and had stopped to fill up before entering Thailand.

"We didn't know about the ban. How are we going to fill up our motorcycle? It's Thai-registered. We live here and only go back occasionally to visit our children. We'll have to think of something," said Amah.

Govt acts to ensure only locals get subsidised fuel

KUALA LUMPUR: The government will decide tomorrow on mechanisms to prevent foreign-registered vehicles from buying subsidised fuel at border areas.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said these vehicles may also have to pay the full market price for fuel elsewhere in the country.

On a new mechanism to disburse fuel subsidies to Malaysians, Abdullah said the cabinet was still studying the options available.

"We will discuss whether the mechanism will be based on the car's (engine) capacity, or on the income of recipients, among others things, but foreigners should pay market price," he told a press conference at his office yesterday.

On the continuing claims that MPs from Sabah and Sarawak might defect to the opposition, Abdullah said that there would not be any threat to the Barisan Nasional.

"A crossover will never be seen in this life, if you are talking about a move from the BN to PR."

Abdullah also said that there was no need for a review of Senator Datuk Zaid Ibrahim's appointment as minister in the Prime Minister's Department.

He defended Zaid's comments against Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman (BN-Pasir Salak), who called for the review, and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir (BN-Jerlun), as Zaid was correcting facts and information cited by the two that were "outdated".

Tajuddin had on Tuesday called on the prime minister to review Zaid's appointment for being "irresponsible" in berating MPs who had criticised government policies and the prime minister.

FUEL-BUYING FRENZY AT BORDER: In overdrive to fill up before deadline

BUKIT KAYU HITAM: Thais are visiting different petrol kiosks here to fill up the tanks of their vehicles with either petrol or diesel, emptying them when they get across the border before returning to this border town for a refill.

They are hoarding petrol and diesel before the authorities start imposing the ruling which does not allow them to fill up their tanks with government-subsidised fuel within a 50km radius of the border with effect from Monday.

Currently, each Thai vehicle is allowed to pump RM30 of petrol or diesel at a petrol station.

Several petrol kiosk operators here and in Changlun near the Malaysia-Thai border have reported repeat buyers.

Despite a postponement of the implementation of the ruling to Monday, Thai vehicles are still coming in droves to fill up petrol or diesel near the border town here and in Padang Besar, Perlis.

Earlier, it was announced that the ruling was to take effect yesterday.

Taking advantage of the cheaper fuel, the Thais would visit different petrol kiosks to fill up the tanks of their vehicles before returning to their homes in nearby Danok, across the Malaysia-Thai border in Kedah, to store the fuel. They would then re-enter to buy more.

A similar scenario was also observed with Thai vehicles in Padang Besar.

A worker at one of the petrol stations here, Norlela Bulat, 29, noticed that most of the vehicles that showed up at her petrol kiosk were the same ones.

She believed that they were trying to buy as much petrol or diesel for storage before the ruling came into force.

Meanwhile, Kedah Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Department enforcement division chief Suhaimi Mat Sari said he and his men would be merely observing the situation until the ruling came into effect.

He said they were also identifying petrol kiosks which were the "favourites" among the Thais and that stricter checks would be carried out on them from Monday.

He said 150 enforcement officers would be stationed at all 175 petrol kiosks, located between Bukit Kayu Hitam and Alor Star, to ensure all parties strictly observed the new ruling.

Any petrol kiosk found breaching the ruling will face a maximum fine of RM250,000 or three years' jail or both.

Individuals found guilty of the offence will face the maximum RM100,000 fine.