From Irish Political Review: August 2007

Fuel Rationing In Iran

The one time I managed to see BBC World in Iran was when the petrol rationing was introduced. The reporter was happily excited to report trouble at some filling stations in Tehran. She explained that the 15 litres a day allowed would not get people to work as the distances were great in that city and there was little in the way of public transport.

This last statement is a lie. Public transport everywhere in Iran is second to none. It is based on the shared taxi system which will be familiar to anyone who has known Belfast over the last thirty years. You stand by the road and within a minute or two a taxi will be going wherever you are going—and all for less than a penny a ride. Taxi petrol allowances are far higher than those of private motorists.

There is also an extensive bus and minibus system. There is a wide rail network, and there is the ever-extending and very efficient Tehran Metro. Air fares between cities are a joke: they're really cheap. I suppose that for the BBC lady the system is so lower class that it might as well not exist.

She also made a fuss about the unfairness of the Government giving only two hours' notice of the introduction of the rationing. The idea had been mooted some time ago but then dropped so that most people believed that it would not happen.

She wasn't the only one to make a fuss. There were, of course, the near-rioters in Tehran with their 20 litre drums. And there were members of Parliament and even members of the Government who said they weren't warned either. They weren't warned because they were bent.

The reason for rationing as opposed to price rises was to avoid inflation and a reduction in living standards, as well as avoiding favouring the rich. If notice had been given, the profiteers with the money would have bought up and hoarded almost every available litre of petrol and sold it at ten times its value to the motorists. Fine for the type of Iranian people that BBC reporters hob nob with. Not so fine for everyone else.

In one go petrol distribution would have moved from the public to the private sector and its price would have soared; to no one's benefit except that of the profiteers.

Why was petrol rationing needed? Iran has a superabundance of oil but it has only a tiny refining capacity, while the Iranians use the cheap oil like water. (There is a general rule that anything that is extensively used by the public is ultra-cheap—petrol, food, transport, cigarettes though frowned upon, accommodation for pilgrims, electricity, telephones, and so on.)

So most refined fuel has to be imported. Apart from the cost and inconvenience of this, it means that petrol is always vulnerable to US sanctions and worse.

The Government building new refineries in the present climate is not considered a good idea.

What is being done is to get foreign private companies to build them. Then at least it will be their refineries that get shocked and awed. And, of course, there is the accelerated development of nuclear power. That answers the Western Media's question: why does an oil rich country need nuclear power?

There is also the matter of pollution and health. With every Tom, Dick and Ali driving around all day, Tehran has become one of the smog capitals of the world. And there are 16 million Toms, Dicks and Alis in and around Tehran. The largest mountain in the country looms over Tehran. Mostly it is invisible.

The Chelsea Tractor or SUV problem is not yet great here but I can see them in the showrooms. With the price of petrol here it was an inevitable move by the rich. With petrol rationing they will have to stay where they are 'til they rust. So all in all, and in spite of the BBC, petrol rationing day was a good news day.

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