The shortage of fuel in the country must be explained to allay fears as well as clarify the growing fears that the government is able to manage fuel import and distribution.
Firstly the fears are real and contradict the rather flippant excuses from the Ministry of energy suggesting that panic and bulk buying compounded by the reluctance of oil marketing companies to purchase stocks from Ndola were responsible for the shortage.
This obviously is not true because Ndola the main supplier is in the throes of a fuel shortage. The excuse of rogue OMC’s does not arise in the circumstances.
If anything there is a suggestion now that Indeni will shut down for the next 40 days for major repairs servicing and regular maintenance.
Coming at a time when we are suffering a shortage, the maintenance shut down seems rather inappropriate.
Secondly the entire oil procurement and distribution system leaves much to be desired as there are serious operational gaps that government is failing to explain.
The statement by Energy And Water Development Permanent Secretary Charity Mwansa that there was no need to panic as there were enough fuel stocks in the country cannot stand to scrutiny because many petrol stations are dry. It is even difficult to understand how Ms Mwansa can suggest that shortages are purported. They are not purported, they are real and must be addressed.
This country requires a complete and total strategizing n the procurement and management of fuel stocks. While it is true that energy is a strategic product and engine of the economy it is also true that private sector driven interest would be able to provide the country adequately.
At the moment the private sector has been marginalized by the maze of regulations and a tight tax regime that is not only discriminatory but deliberately designed to give parastatals an advantage over the private sector. As a result of these restrictions, Zambia continues to suffer high fuel prices which are totally unresponsive to global trends.
The government is so entrenched in long term contracts which in many cases are overpriced, thereby precluding any possibility that our prices may be linked to a global index. This actually explains why this country bought an over priced consignment of $500 million worth of oil instead of spending $237 million because the government as a price determinant was able to coerce and therefore force treasury into releasing the funds. This would not have happened if the private sector had been involved in which case different dynamics would have been at play.
The sooner government releases oil procurement from governments apron strings the better for this country as corruptionand graft will cease to be a factor.
Lest it be forgotten the Trafigura deal is still alive and the Zambian people will come back to it and will ensure it is rectified.
The fact that government has failed to explain the discrepancy does not in any way absolve it from blame and culpability.