RIO DE JANEIRO, June 4 (Reuters) - Brazil’s energy ministry said on Saturday it backed full independence for Petrobras to set domestic fuel prices, blaming past controls for saddling the state-controlled oil company with crippling debt that is the oil industry’s largest.
Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the company is formally known, and other state-controlled companies, such as utility Eletrobras, with shares owned by non-government investors should be free to act in their best interests without government interference, the ministry said in a statement.
It cited Energy Minister Fernando Coelho Filho three days after he told reporters that the energy, finance and planning ministries would review expected changes by Petrobras to gasoline, diesel and other fuel prices in Brazil. At the same event, new Petrobras Chief Executive Pedro Parente said the company would set fuel prices to meet its commercial needs without government interference.
Coelho was appointed in May when Interim-President Michel Temer took over from suspended President Dilma Rousseff while she faces an impeachment trial in the Senate for allegedly breaking budget rules.
Over the past 13 years, Petrobras has made some of the world’s largest oil discoveries and invested about $300 billion on expansion. Rousseff’s Workers Party and her allies directed this spending to meet broad economic and political goals that helped lift millions from abject poverty.
Those policies failed to meet many of Rousseff’s promised development targets or put Petrobras on a sustainable footing. Many gains are being whittled away by Brazil’s biggest recession in at least 80 years.
Fuel-price controls, adopted to control inflation, cut Petrobras revenue, helping cause debt to balloon to nearly $130 billion. They also starved Brazil’s biggest company, responsible for more than 10 percent of gross domestic product, of revenue to finance one of the world’s largest-ever capital spending plans.
Reporting by Jeb Blount; Editing by Richard Chang