Liberia: Petroleum Importers ‘Unable to Continue Importation’ Due to High Taxes; Shortage Hits Market

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Monrovia – The scarcity of petroleum products on the Liberian market is becoming a cause for concern, as major importers and the Liberian government remain in a deadlock over a new price.

Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]

Several major service stations across Monrovia and Paynesville are short on product, and some retailers have hiked the price while others are creating artificial scarcity. 

On Monday, consumers, including drivers, were seen moving from one station to another and where gasoline was available, vehicles were seen in long queues. Stations that have limited supplies were rationing to customers. At one gas station in Sinkor, customers were allowed to only purchase four gallon of gasoline at a given time.

The Ministry of Commerce and the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company – two government agencies responsible to regulate the sector – are so far tight-lipped, prompting sector observers to warn that the situation may potentially of heighten.

Sources say the importers are calling on the government to take several actions to avoid the risk. The decision, the say, should include waiving some tariff placed on storage fees. This is happening at a time the price for a barrel of crude oil has increased on the world market. 

The current price of a barrel of Brent crude so far this month is 83.15$ per barrel, while the price was 78.89$ dollars per barrel in September of 2018. Over last twelve months the price has raisen by 44.58%. Brent oil makes up more than half of the world’s globally traded supply of crude oil. Brent blend crude serves as benchmark price for purchases of oil worldwide. It is traded electronically via the ICE futures exchange.

Importers in Liberia are concern that the uncertainty of the global factors are impacting the local market condition and would adversely trigger down on the prices of other major commodities if intervention is delayed.  

In a letter to the Minister of Finance, obtained by FrontPage Africa, three of Liberia’s top petroleum importers stressed that the increment of the price on the world market is putting their investment at risk. 

The letter by NP Liberia, Aminata and Petro Trade addressed to Minister Samuel Tweah as Chairman of the government’s Economic Management Team also expressed the importers’ “inability” to meet the road fund obligation as part of a tax scheme to support government’s road construction in the country.  

Commercial Drivers Worried 

While the government and importers are reportedly staying behind closed doors sorting out the pertinent issues about the price of petroleum, drivers are sweating over the unavailability of petroleum products across town.

John Sackie, a taxi driver, said on Monday morning that he had to visit three different gas stations. At the third station, he was limited to purchasing three gallons of gasoline.

“The price of gasoline since last night has changed, the few gas stations that are open are selling to us at a very higher price different from L$530 that was previously announced by the government of Liberia,” Sackie said.

Abraham Konneh, commercial motorcyclist of Gardnersville, added that the hike in price is creating loses for them, while calling on the government “to swiftly do something about the issue, because for some of us it is through this hustle we are supporting our family.”

“This government is not taking the cry of the ordinary people serious. Because if they do like they claim to be, things like this will not happen often under their administration,” asserts Jerry Kollie, a taxi driver in central Monrovia.

The situation is also sparking tension between passengers and drivers due to the increment of fares that many passengers see as unfair. Monday witnessed several skirmishes between passengers and drivers with the latter arguing that the ongoing scarcity has determined a change in the ne fare.

Gas Shortage Problem

Meanwhile, several pump attendants told FPA that the situation is worrisome, and they don’t understand why the situation is escalating when the LPRC has huge storage of petroleum products. 

“I am calling on the relevant authority of government to quickly intervene in this problem before it gets out of hand. If this problem, continue for the next one week some of us will be out of business because this is the only business we know,” warns Mohammed Kromah, a pump attendant at NP in central Monrovia.

“This news of gas shortage in the city is really worrying people like us. It is this daily hustle I am paying my school fees and also doing others thing for myself. Some of us do not want to go in the street that is why we are doing this small business just to gets earn means at the end of the day. So, I am asking the rightful people to please do something, so we can be able to keep bread on our table.”

A supervisor of Aminita Gas Station in the Joe-Bar, Paynesville said they have been awaiting supply since the last one ran out. 

“We are awaiting those responsible for supply to bring gas later and if no gas will be supplied to us today, then maybe, there is a problem, but I can’t state anything to you right now because our people have not informed us on anything about gas shortage.

We were selling gas here for LD$550.00,” said Bettie Swaray.

Mark Gonleh, Manager of SP Gas Station at Du-Port Junction, sold 192 gallons of gas at a price of L$560 within three hours and refused to deplete his reserve.  

“This gas station hardly goes out of gas because not many people can buy from us, but we observe that more people bought from us this morning and for now, only reserve we have. We are awaiting our head office to bring gas,” he said.

Mario Yard of NP Gas Station at Police Academy Junction in Paynesville said the station had not received petroleum supplies for the past few days. 

Reporters Jackson Kanneh and Willie N. Tokpah contribute this story

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