An organisation that champions of consumer rights, CUTS Ghana has said the decision by the Association of Oil Marking Companies (AOMCs) to set a percentage cap and defer the window for reducing fuel prices at the pump violates the Section 44 of the National Petroleum Authority Act 691 of 2005.

Country Director CUTS Ghana, Appiah Kusi Adomako, said Act states that a person or an agent of that person shall not indulge in or assist in cartelisation in the petroleum downstream industry.

“Section 43 of the Act prohibits the formation of cartels or any behaviour that seeks to lessen competition in the petroleum downstream market,” he said.

Mr Appiah Adomako was speaking in Accra as part of activities marking World Consumer Rights Day.

Mr Adomako said, “with the emergence of price deregulation, one would expect consumers to feel the impact of the fall in the crude oil prices coupled with the appreciation of the Ghanaian cedi against the US dollar, however, the concerted effort by the AOMCs to agree on an average percentage price reduction and the deferring the time for such  a reduction constitutes a price-fixing which is an offence under sub-section 3 of Section 44 which states that a person who commits an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding ten years or to a fine not exceeding fifteen thousand penalty units calculated in a currency determined by the Minister, or to both.”

He added that the statement by the Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Oil Marketing Companies (AOMCs), Kwaku Agyeman Duah, that consumers of petroleum products should not expect a drastic reduction of the commodity this week in “is a clear indication that the association is having a horizontal and concerted action on pricing which violates the essence of the free market and competition rules as contained in the NPA Act.

The essence of the full price deregulation, he noted, is to bring about competition and increase efficiency in the market and thereby increasing consumer welfare.

He said it was unfortunate that Ghanaian petroleum consumers have not seen any appreciable decrease in the amount that they pay at the pump when the key variables for determining prices suggest so. 

“It is much of a wonder why the oil marketing companies in the country are very slow in reviewing prices downwards but very swift when it comes to an upward review of prices,” he said.

Though when there is price deregulation, there is little that the NPA can do to intervene, however, when market players are not becoming responsive to the pricing variables, then the authority can act to protect the interest of petroleum consumers, he said.

Price fixing is an agreement which could be written, verbal, or inferred from conduct among competitors that raise, lower, or stabilise prices or competitive terms.

He said the reason why Competition or Antitrust Regulations prohibit price-fixing is that firms have different cost structures and by allowing market operators to fix or agree on prices or take any concerted action on prices, reduces competition and innovation in the market and consumers are made worst off.

Though members of the association can meet to decide or agree on some issues, it is illegal for the association to decide on any matters related to pricing, he stressed.

“Whilst we wait for Parliament to pass the Competition and Fair Trade Practice Bill into law which is a key precondition for the start of the second phase of the negotiations of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA),” he said. 

Mr Adomako called on the NPA to use the existing provisions in the NPA Act (Sections 43, 44 and 45) to investigate anti-competitive violations in the petroleum downstream sector.

World Consumer Rights Day is celebrated worldwide on March 13th annually to promote and highlight the welfare of consumers across sectors. CUTS is a research, advocacy and a public policy think tank.