GOVERNMENT must explain the sporadic and persistent fuel shortages in the country to allow consumers and industry plan properly. Information is power and ignorance is very expensive economically.
What is the cause and how soon is a permanent solution in sight? Fuel is the driver of the economy – it cannot be allowed to run low.
We know there has been logistical gaps in the crude oil and products supply chain. It is rumoured the Government owes the suppliers money , causing them to pause and wait for payment. It is not clear why the Ministry of Energy has allowed this situation to get thus far. Clearly there is a very serious situation obtaining which someone is not ready to explain.
For the past three weeks the ministry has been informing stakeholders that they were going to put up a tender advert in the major newspapers to pick the supplier or suppliers for the next crude oil and fuel products shipments. This has not happened. The reason is simple: there is a problem.
Commenting on the fuel shortage in Livingstone, Energy deputy minister Charles Zulu admitted the fuel supply situation in the country was ‘’bad’’ and disclosed that Government will soon issue a comprehensive statement on the matter.
Truly the country needs an explanation. We cannot allow so much uncertainty over an issue that is almost a matter of life and death.
Fuel is the blood of the economy. If nothing is done quickly to deal with the current shortage, heads must roll.
However, this cannot justify the actions of unscrupulous traders who have taken upon themselves the impunity of raising prices unilaterally each time there is a semblance of shortage of a commodity in Zambia when the law says clearly that there is always a procedure to follow.
The illegal and exploitative action by bus and taxi drivers in Livingstone who have increased fares by as much as 100 percent just because one or two petrol stations has run out of fuel cannot be allowed to be the norm in a country governed by laws. The perpetrators must be found and punished.
The fuel shortage in the tourist capital is not unique to that town. There has been persistent petrol shortages in Lusaka over the past two weeks but we have not heard of transporters scrambling for price increases because they know this shortage is only temporary.
Taxi and bus drivers must leave the issue to their leaders who know the channel of communication with Government in a case where the situation is so bad that a fare increase is necessary.
It is unfortunate that the scam is not only restricted to the transport sector alone. Milling companies and mealie meal traders are also culprits. Despite the Government, through the Food Reserve Agency, selling maize to milling companies at highly concessionary rates, mealie meal prices are still unacceptably high.
In some rural centres a 25kg bag of mealie meal is fetching between K90 and K120 and yet the milling plants where this commodity is sourced in the provincial towns is buying the maize at subsidized prices and selling at K65 wholesale price. It is usually the local trader who has no mercy and takes advantage of the vulnerability of rural dwellers to increase prices exponentially.
It is for this reason that the Government, in a bid to protect the consumer, has so often hinted on the introduction of price controls to tame the price sharks who are responsible for the high cost of living and inflation rate now hovering around 23 percent.