Liberia: No One Should Play Politics With Economic Products Such As Gasoline
FOR NEARLY TWO weeks now, the whole nation has been grappling with acute gasoline shortage on the market, even though the government through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has been saying that there is no shortage of the sacred product.
IN SPITE OF this pronouncement, the reality has been quite different in the streets, including at various refilling stations around Monrovia and the entire country.
LONG QUEUES of vehicles, including cars, tricycles (kekeh) and motorbikes and customers with gallons, some even with generators, have been seen at petro stations, especially in Monrovia areas fighting to get few gallons.
AS A RESULT OF this shortage, most commercial vehicles’ operators, have seen it as an opportunity to inflate their fares from one distance to another. Also, the mostly young men, who sell the product on the sidewalks in Monrovia and along highways, have tripled the price, too.
THE APPROVED PRICE per gallon at the moment is L$605, (US$3.21) but the short supply has created the opportunity for the sidewalk vendors, known locally as ‘can boys’, to now sell a gallon of gasoline for L$1,550. In effect, commercial drivers have begun, too, hiking transportation fares. Even those ones who buy the product at the regular, stipulated price, have also joined some of those other operators, who not wanting to be patient in the long, boring queues, result to get the product from the street peddlers. In all of this, commuters are subject to bear the harsh reality of what’s unfolding.
A TRIP FROM GANTA to Monrovia which hitherto cost between L$1,100 and L$1,200, saw commercial drivers charging commuters L$2,500 to L$2,600.
TRANSPORT FARE from Gbarnga to Monrovia that used to be L$800 had jumped to L$1,500.
ALSO, FROM Ganta to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, the transport fare has been increased from L$ 6,000 to L$10,000.
INITIALLY WHEN the noise of the shortage hit the news stand, the government through the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC), denied the shortage, claiming there was sufficient gasoline in the country for regular and normal supply. The LPRC also threatened to go after vendors who were creating the artificial shortage. There are reports that some of its agents along with those from the Ministry of Commerce, began confiscating the product from those sidewalk young men, who were caught hiking the price. Notwithstanding, the long queues kept/keep forming at various refilling stations. At the moment, there is policy of some refilling stations not to sell gasoline to anyone who bring gallon. Well, at those same stations, they can diesel in gallon, what a policy! The suppliers at those stations, have told FrontPageAfrica that this mandate is from the Commerce Ministry.
ALSO IN DENIAL, too, was the National Port Authority (NPA), which vehemently debunked reports of the inability of some tankers/ships to berth at the Freeport of Monrovia as the port has not been dredged since 2016.
DESPITE THE DENIAL, the situation of limited supply of gasoline continues to persist as only two recognized vendors – Petrol Trade (SP) and TOTAL – were selling gasoline, at regular price, too. Other filing stations like Aminata and NP, which were out of supply, have begun selling now, but still not consistently as the latter two named above. As a result of this, the pressure is heavy on those dealers, and all other dealers.
IT SEEMS LIBERIA is yet the only country so far whose inhabitants have staged a protest against the shortage of gasoline on the market this year. On Tuesday, January 28, bikers in Buchanan, the capital of Grand Bassa County, which is just a two-hour drive away from Monrovia took to the streets in protest over the lack of gasoline in the county.
THE PROTESTERS STARTED their action by 5 a.m. halting normal movement of citizens and vehicles.
VICTOR JOE, head of operations for the Grand Bassa County Motorcyclists Union, told FrontPageAfrica that they were going to continue their action for the next couple of days if nothing was done to solve the situation of gasoline shortage in the county.
“NO JOB IN THIS COUNTRY; we the motorcycle riders are struggling to cater to our families through motorcycle, and for the past one week we being buying gas for L$1,000 per gallon just to hustle but for the past three days, we can’t even see a half gallon of gas to buy,” Joe shouted amid rants and chants by dozens of other motorcyclists.
HE FURTHER STATED: “Almost all our bikes are out of gas and we can’t bear it anymore.”
SINCE LAST WEEK, hundreds of motorcycle riders and drivers often made their way to the only TOTAL gas station in the county to get gas. They have complained that they don’t get served.
TOTAL IS THE ONLY major gas station currently selling to the local people for reasonable price due to the acute scarcity of gasoline.
THE SITUATION BECAME too glaring last week that government couldn’t continue the denial. On Wednesday, January 29, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Prof. Wilson Tarpeh, said the situation was becoming a problem but the government was making interventions that are geared towards preventing a recurrence.
HE TOLD FRONTPAGEAFRICA that the Ministry and the LPRC were misled by the inventory of stock they had in the tankers.
“4.4 MILLION GALLONS of gas is what the importers have on their inventory, but when the actual volume in the tanks was calibrated by LPRC that amount is substantially low, so, there was a big difference and the question is ‘what happened to the gas that was in the tanks?’ and that question is something that we have to answer at a later date,” he said.
ACCORDING TO HIM, the 4.4 million gallons that reflected on the inventory could have supplied the country for 26 days.
HE ALSO CONFIRMED media reports that because the port has not been dredged for a couple of years, some tanker vessels can no longer dock at the Freeport.
“THE OTHER PROBLEM is no secret, it’s the port. We have some ships coming in, 10.3 meters, they need more than that, 14 meters, 16 meters they need but we don’t have it so it’s shallow and because of that the larger ships are not able to come,” he said.
MIN. TARPEH SAID due to the limited availability of gasoline now on the market, only TOTAL and Petrol Trade have gasoline in large volume which has now put some pressure on them.
“IN FACT, WE’VE even taken a decision to plead to those who have to pump product to those who don’t have and it includes those stations which service our young people including the pehn-pehn (bike) and keh-keh riders,” he said.
ACCORDING TO MIN. TARPEH, the current situation was expected to last about a week before the situation comes to normality. “But again, it depends on the number ships that would be coming. This Ministry is working with LPRC to bring additional quantity,” he said.
MR. MINISTER AND OTHERS INVOLVED with the handling of these products that are so political to be very careful that politics should not be played when it comes to the bread and butter issues of ordinary Liberians. Things can easily spiral out of control and spike tension. You need to revisit that dip-sticks or other instruments that you guys use to do the calibration of the products that are in the storage tanks in the LRPC’s yard. Other than that, one day this nation will be caught pants down, who knows what will be after effect of the shortage that would be experienced.
BE REMINDED that the nation’s economy, at the moment, is very bad, has shrunk and sliding deep down the mud.