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Fuelling panic

Motorists queue for fuel

Helen Buluma

By Mandy Pondani, Feston Malekezo, Jarson Malowa & Jameson Chauluka:

In what is seen as a desperate attempt to stabilise the fuel supply situation in the country, Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) has revoked a waiver which allowed consumers to buy up to 20 litres of the commodity in jerry cans.

By Tuesday, fuel supply disruptions continued in Lilongwe, Zomba, Blantyre and Mzuzu, with motorists queuing at various filling stations to access the strategic commodity.

Still, National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) Deputy Chief Executive Officer Helen Buluma insisted the State-owned firm is working hard to normalise the situation.

In a statement released Tuesday, Mera said it has in recent days observed abuse of the waiver and that as such, those allowed to make the said purchases will have to produce a valid fuel bulk permit from the regulator.

“It has been noted with deep concern that this waiver has been overly abused. Mera therefore revokes the waiver and directs fuel service stations to only accept refilling of jerry cans and containers of customers who produce a valid Fuel Bulk Purchase Permit issued by Mera,” the statement reads in part.

In the statement, Mera has warned that any fuel service station found contravening the directive will be liable to a fine and risks closure.

The revocation comes as the regulatory body continues to raise concern over alleged fuel trading malpractices which are reportedly becoming common.

Among some of the trading malpractices that the authority has complained about are hoarding of fuel, showing undue preference to or discriminating against any person in the provision of petroleum products or services and storage of any volume of fuel without a license.

“Mera alongside other agencies mandated to enforce the law is implementing enhanced monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the laws and regulations governing the fuel sector are strictly adhered to,” the statement adds.

But Executive Director of the Consumers Association of Malawi, John Kapito, Tuesday maintained that revoking the waiver is not a solution to the fuel supply woes the country is facing.

Kapito said the malpractices highlighted can be dealt with if the authority ensures sufficient and sustained supply of the commodity in the country.

“Mera knows that it cannot monitor and inspect what is happening in all the filling stations. They lied to consumers just a week ago that fuel scarcity was just a temporary event and that by following week, which is this one, all filling stations would be back to normal,” Kapito said.

Meanwhile, the Trade, Industry and Tourism Committee of Parliament has shifted a meeting it was supposed to have with Buluma from Monday to Friday this week.

The committee’s Chairperson Simplex Chithyola said Buluma was summoned to respond to queries regarding the fuel situation in the country.

In an interview with The Daily Times Tuesday, Buluma acknowledged forex shortages in the country but insisted Nocma releases fuel onto the market on a daily basis.

“Nocma has continued to release products from the Strategic Fuel Reserves (SFRs) at an average of 1.3 million litres per day. We are working hard to ensure that the situation normalises and will give an update in the week.

“Nocma continues to import despite challenges with forex on the market. We continue to import and receive the product every day and Malawians should not panic because this situation will normalise soon. Nocma has pushed in 6.5 million litres of fuel valued at $7 million into the market in the past five days,” Buluma said.

But in Blantyre, there were long queues in several stations while others did not have the commodity all together.

Some of the filling stations that we visited in Chitawira, Blantyre Central Business District, Mbayani and Mount Pleasant had no diesel.

In Mzuzu, only a few filling stations had fuel, resulting in long queues as motorists desperately struggled to access the commodity.

Zomba also had several dry pumps for a good part of yesterday, also leading to winding queues at the few that had fuel.

A fuel attendant at a Total Filling Station in Zomba, Davison Banda, said diesel pumps went dry around midday on Monday.

On Monday, Mera spokesperson Fitina Khonje said the supply disruptions were temporary.

She maintained the position yesterday, saying: “Stakeholders are working tirelessly to ensure disruptions are minimised and restore an optimal flow of supplies.”

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