By Allieu Sahid Tunkara
Two days have gone and transport crises continue to worsen owing to what fuel dealers say, “diesel shortage” although hoarding cannot be completely ruled out.
Large crowds and long queues are still visible at lorry parks and bus stops.At Wellington in the east of Freetown, commuters are anxious to board vehicles that could convey them to their destinations. Some are government workers while the others are businessmen fighting for their survival. The incessant stampedes at lorry parks in Freetown on the arrival of a vehicle are strong evidence of the crisis. Sometimes, commuters, especially women who struggle to board vehicles sustain injuries. Owing to the stampedes, owners or drivers of private vehicles would not dare to stop at lorry parks to help the helpless commuters for fear of damage to their vehicles.
But Taxi drivers seem not helpful in a crisis of this nature. Demanding high fares from commuters is not uncommon. Tricycle riders(keke) and commercial motorists(okada) are indifferent to the plight of commuters. Sierra Leone transport owners have gained a notoriety for exploiting commuters during times of crises.
Osman Kamara is a commuter who has been in the queue at Wellington for a lengthy period. He was not sure of travelling in a vehicle on that day as the money he had could not match the drivers’ demands. Returning home for another sum of money was not possible as he was almost late for duty. He blames the government for a crisis that has posed a threat to the lives of the people. “A government is voted in power to improve the lives of the people. When something contrary occurs, we have the right to vote you out,” He said. Kamara says the crisis is lingering and government is not taking immediate steps to reverse the situation. “It is bad when crisis of this nature occurs and the authorities responsible are not doing what they supposed to do,” He said.
However, a taxi driver plying between Jui and Up-Gun in the east of Freetown told Nightwatch that since the shortage of diesel, black marketers commonly known as ‘Jebu sellers’ operates from behind the scenes. The taxi driver said a jerry can of diesel costs Le 300,000. “The price is not good anyway but to see the diesel is a problem,” he emphasised. He also explained that the crises are not showing signs of receding. “I have not heard from any government official about any action that can be taken to solve the problem,” he said.
The two-day long transport crises is not only visible in the east of Freetown but also seen in the west. A Filling station at Wilkinson Road is virtually empty of vehicles. Filling station marketers and operators say “there is an acute shortage of diesel in Freetown.”
However, a marketer at LEONCO filling station told this medium that diesel was on the way. But, commuters wonder about the time the diesel would reaches the country. “ How long will we remain in such condition,” he said.
Recently, a commercial motorist at Allen Town, Samuel Ngakui had accused fuel importers of conniving with black marketers to profiteer. Ngakui told Nightwatch the importers were responsible for the shortage. “fuel dealers, most times, hold meetings with black marketers to cause the shortage,” Ngakui said. The shortage, he said, meant more profit for the dealers. During suchperiods, he said, it was not unusual for the black marketers to sell at the same price. “The price of fuel is Le 8,500.00 while black marketers sell Le 10,000.00. During shortage period, black marketers sell at Le 12,000.00 or Le15,000.00. That difference could be shared between the black marketers and the fuel importers,” Ngakui explained. “ “If the fuel crises lasts for a week, Imagine the amount of money the black marketers and fuel dealers make for themselves at the detriment of the public,” Ngakui wondered.
The Petroleum Regulatory Agency(PRA) is the institution responsible for the regulation of the fuel industry. The institution has the mandate to check the quantities in the tanks of filling stations and the status puts them in position to forestall a foreseen shortage of fuel.
During the recent shortage of petroleum, a PRA official at the Monitoring and Operations department, who spoke on condition of anonymity, had told this medium that enough quantity of fuel existed in filling stations. “ No shortage existed at the time,” he said. However, PRA does not a have a public relations unit to release information in a crisis period like this.
In this second day of the transport crises, PRA has not commented on the issue.
By Allieu Sahid Tunkara