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Did ‘Buga’ really dry up Malawi’s fuel taps?

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By Feston Malekezo 

 

Fun lovers last weekend could not hold their breath for the Nigerian singer and song writer—Kizz Daniel, famed recently with Buga hit.

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Malawi’s capital buzzed. Both organisers and some patrons said the show overwhelmed the golf course. Others said it was too expensive for the common person.

 

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But little did anyone know that Kizz Daniel would dry up Malawi’s fuel, as government would tell the world!

 

After the Buga dance, Malawi’s fuel pumps in Lilongwe run dry. National Oil Company (Nocma) decided to give an excuse as funny as it could be.

 

In a statement on August 29, 2022, it said:

 

“NOCMA is aware that over the past forty-eight (48) hours the country has experienced sporadic location-based fuel shortages, especially in Lilongwe and parts of the central region which had led to panic buying. This was mainly because of a surge in demand in Lilongwe and parts of the central region which undermined the weekend supply due to many events that were taking place in (sic) city over the weekend.”

 

Blantyre, Kasungu, Mzuzu and Karonga followed suit — typical of the choreography in the animation, Rango. How was that all ‘Buga’s’ fault?

 

In truth, Nocma was not telling the truth.

 

Firstly, let’s dwell on this line in the statement: “This was… due to many events that were taking place in (sic) city over the weekend.” Needless to say, this lacks sincerity and veracity.

 

If it were those “many events” happening in Lilongwe, what did they have to do with sporadic supplies in Karonga, Mzuzu, Kasungu, Balaka, Salima and Nkhotakota where shortages have persisted to as late as yesterday in some places.

 

And how many international shows has Lilongwe hosted without having fuel supply interruptions? This is not to mention of Lake of Stars, Sand Music Festival — events hosted for days and not that Kizz Daniel’s one-night show.

 

Away with that narrative, Nocma continued to embarrass itself in the statement:

 

“The fuel supply situation in Lilongwe City and other cities across the country should normalize by the end o f t h e day.”

 

The day turned into days and over a week now the commodity still appears in drips.

 

Nocma should not stroll with a litany of excuses. The truth is this: Malawi has no adequate forex for fuel purchases.

 

Figures from the Reserve Bank of Malawi show that as at July 31, gross official foreign exchange reserves stood at $372.99 million, representing a 1.49 months’ worth of imports, way below the internationally recommended three months of imports.

 

This is also down from $502.98 million recorded as at January 31, representing 2.41 months of import cover.

 

Fuel importation is currently being dictated by the Central Bank as Nocma could not get forex from commercial banks which have dry forex coffers.

Similarly, RBM is playing with priorities: if it’s not drug purchase, it could be fuel, or maybe fertilizer, presidential trips, etc.

 

In a recent interview, RBM Governor Wilson Banda lamented that rising import bill continues to pile pressure on the forex situation.

 

Figures he provided showed that, for instance, the country spends about $1 million worth of fuel per day.

 

“For example, importation of fuel through Nocma is probably supported by RBM 100 percent while importation of fuel through PIL [Petroleum Importers Limited], even though has been done through commercial banks, has also been leaning on the Reserve Bank to provide that fuel.

 

“Importation of fertiliser is landed on the door steps of the Central Bank. Importation of medicine is also coming to us. In normal terms, that is the responsibility of commercial banks,” he said.

 

Two headlines in the papers this told part of the story: ‘Import bill at K789bn’, went the headline in The Nation newspaper while another in The Daily Times of the same day, August 31, read ‘Exports earnings at K301bn’. That is just for the first half of the year.

 

Apart from Nocma, PIL also hauls fuel into the country in a 50-50 arrangement.

 

In April this year, PIL Vice Board Chairperson Zubeir Bhana said: “Let me keep it simple; the formula to Malawi’s fuel availability is the availability of forex. No forex, no fuel.”

Conclusion: Kizz Daniel, a football match or anybody’s wedding has nothing to do with this fuel supply interruption in the country.

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