At least 70 companies are facing legal action and 15 restaurants have been shut down for illegally hiking up prices when subsidies on oil, electricity and water were reduced on January 1, a government minister has reportedly said. The government on Sunday retracted the move to reduce its hefty subsidies burden amid outrage from businesses who were forced to absorb the increased costs rather than passing them onto consumers, as well as MPs, who argued the recent drop in oil prices should lead to lower, not higher, prices for consumers.
However, Commerce and Industry Minister Abdulmohsen Al Mudej said the companies that had charged customers more for their goods since January still would be referred to the public prosecution. Some shops closed in protest over the increased costs, a local daily reported.
The reduced subsidies saw the price of diesel at wholesalers and fuel stations rise to 0.170 dinars (59 cents) per litre from 0.055 dinars. Oil Minister Ali Al Omair said on Sunday subsidies reform was inevitable and had been only postponed, according to a local daily. But Finance Minister Anas Al Saleh said the government might make 0.170 dinar per litre - still cheap by international standards - a ceiling for diesel. Neither minister said when authorities might resume considering the reforms.