Liberia: Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh Hints Imminent Gasoline Shortage Amid Importers’ Inability to Finance Importation

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Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The Minister of Commerce, Professor Wilson Tarpeh has announced the current supply of gasoline on the Liberian market is at an all-time low-and is expected to run out within the coming weeks.

Addressing the Plenary of the House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 24, Prof. Tarpeh blamed the situation to the inability of major importers to finance the importation of gasoline owing to the problem of reconciliation and dredging at the Freeport of Monrovia.

However, Prof. Tarpeh assured the House Plenary that the situation is expected to be addressed within a month following the arrival of 19,000 metric tons, about 6,650,000 gallons of gasoline within four weeks.

“In the current situation, the level of petroleum product in the market is very low, precariously low and there are two primary reasons for this: the inability of importers to finance import as the result of the situation that we have with the reconciliation and the dredging of the port,” he said, in his testimony before the House of Representatives.

“As we speak, our current level can go within seven to nine days, and the order that we are expected to receive has been put up for another ten days. But we are confident that the importers said we expecting 19,000 metric tons which is 6,650,000 gallons of gasoline within the next four weeks.”

The Commerce Minister’s revelation comes in the wake of recent acute gasoline shortage that led to the sacking of the Deputy Managing Director for Operations of the Liberia Petroleum Corporation (LPRC), Bobby Garseyu Brown, and the suspension of all petroleum importers’ licenses by President George Weah.

The President’s action was based on the findings of the Special Task Force commissioned to identify the cause of the recent petroleum shortage in Liberia as well as variances between importers stocks balances and the acute stock balances of the LPRC.

“All petroleum importers licenses are hereby suspended and are to be individually subjected to a performance-based review covering the period January 2017 to January 2020. Re-activation of the license will be done on a case-by-case basis and those that do not meet performance and capacity requirements satisfactory to the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company will be subject to revocation,” a statement from the Executive Mansion said in the wake of the President’s action.

However, in less than a month, the situation is about to resurface, and it is happening at the time the Government is focusing on combating the deadly coronavirus virus that is raging across the world and disrupting international trade.

When asked by anxious lawmakers what could be done to fill in the gap between the time the gasoline will run and the expected date for the arrival of the 19,000 metric tons of gasoline, Minister Tarpeh did not give a definite solution but recommended that the LPRC should start importing petroleum.

However, as lawmakers began grilling the Commerce Minister, Speaker Chambers abruptly called for executive session and the rest of the hearing was held behind closed doors.

“As we speak, our current level can go within seven to nine days, and the order that we are expected to receive has been put up for another ten days. But we are confident that the importers said we expecting 19,000 metric tons which is 6,650,000 gallons of gasoline within the next four weeks.”

– Wilson Tarpeh, Minister of Commerce

Meanwhile, Minister Tarpeh had been invited by plenary, along with health authorities and some cabinet Ministers to explain mechanisms being put in place by their respective ministries and institutions to contain the coronavirus and ensure a steady economy.

He was joined by the Chief Medical officer of Liberia, Dr. Francis Kateh, Minister of Labor, Moses Kollie and Youth and Sports Minister Zeogar Wilson.

Speaking on the measures put in place to ensure the availability of food and other basic commodities on the market as government fights combat the COVID-19 disease, Minister Tarpeh said, his Ministry is working with the producers and importers to maintain price stability.

When grilled by some lawmakers on what the Ministry was doing to stop businesses that are taking advantage of the Coronavirus outbreak and increasing the prices of commodities, the Minister disclosed that a team from the Ministry of Commerce will begin inspection of several businesses to stop the unlawful act. 

Speaking further, he said some of the essential goods including plastic buckets and detergents that are needed to prevent the spread of the virus are made locally, and as such producers have promised to maintain their current prices.

However, because of the disruption of global trade owing to the coronavirus pandemic, he warned of a future shortage in some of the imported essential commodities including rice, oil and other assorted and capital goods if the disease is not contained soon.

He said most of Liberia’s trading partners including Ivory Coast, Guinea, United States, China, and India are also grappling with the virus.

Dr. Kateh’s Testimony

Taking the witness stand, Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Francis Kateh said, of the US$3 million that was requested, the Government of Liberia has given US$500,000 to the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia to combat the coronavirus.

Dr. Kateh also told the lawmakers that the World Bank has approved US$1.5 million to support the Government. With the money, the CMO noted that additional supply including testing kits will be purchased to boost the government’s response.

Responding to why only Montserrado and Margibi Counties were declared infected areas and partially locked down, Dr. Kateh said, because the possible source of the third case has not been discovered.

The infected person Lenda Russ, he noted was not a possible contact of Nathaniel Blama, Liberia’s Index case and the person suspected to have been the carrier has been tested negative.

Since Ms. Russ came in contact with several people in Montserrado and Margibi Counties, the carrier of the virus may likely be in one of the two counties and not be showing any symptoms.

Speaking further, Dr. Kateh said 102 contacts of Ms. Russ have been isolated and 15 people in the suspect wards have been tested and proven negative.

“We have 15 persons in the suspect wards, and we tested them and they came negative. They will be re-tested and if the result is negative, they will be sent home to be monitored,” Dr. Kateh explained.

He also mentioned that all three cases are stable and will be re-tested and when proven negative, will be discharged.

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