Following the closure of some fuel stations in the northern district of Kambia after a police crackdown on alleged petroleum product smugglers, an artificial scarcity has hit the border area, thus affecting seriously cross-border vehicular movement into Guinea.
Desperate and angry faces of customers were seen standing in a long queue at the only operational Total fuel station in the district.
Government recently mounted a crackdown on fuel smugglers amidst concerns that the payment of fuel subsidy was not only benefiting citizens of Sierra Leone, but others in the sub-region as well, due to an apparent smuggling of the product into neighbouring countries – a concern raised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
According to Deputy Minister of Information and Communication, Cornelius Deveaux, government had been paying subsidy on fuel amounting to Le90 billion (about US$ 13million) a year.
He claims that the subsidy on fuel meant that Sierra Leone has the cheapest fuel within the Mano River Union basin, but admitted that government was planning to remove it in order to address the current economic crisis.
He blamed some ‘unscrupulous’ individuals who have been taking advantage of the situation by smuggling fuel into neighbouring countries and selling it at higher prices.
In neighbouring Guinea, he said a litre of petrol is sold at 7,000 Guinean Franc (about Le 9,000), while it costs only Le3, 750 in Sierra Leone.
“Fuel smuggling at this border is a syndicate crime. Government is subsidising the price in the interest of the poor, but our effort is being undermined by certain people, so we are seriously considering removing the subsidy as a measure to reduce smuggling,” he told journalists who were on a day’s visit to Kambia sponsored by his ministry.
Kambia-based journalist, Gibril Gotor, told Concord Times that fuel smuggling was an organised crime in the border district.
Gotor said though police have closed some fuel stations in the district, smuggling was still rife, alleging that some owners of the stations had connected what he described as long ‘snake’ pipes to a nearby bush where they filled tanks for onward transportation to neighbouring Guinea.
An aggrieved driver who plies the route from Gbalamuya to Pamlap, Wurie Sow, told Concord Times that since the commencement of the operation to crackdown on errant fuel stations a fortnight ago, they have been grappling with acute fuel shortage in the district, adding that fuel dealers have created an artificial scarcity.
“I have been in this queue for over four hours. They are rationing four litres per vehicle which is not even enough to take us to Pamlap,” he explained.
He said a ban has been placed on dealers pumping fuel in jerry cans, as the authorities think it is an easy means to smuggle the product to neighbouring Guinea.
However, Yusuf Mansaray, a pump attendant at the Total fuel station in Kambia denied there is any fuel scarcity, blaming the long queue instead on a mechanical problem caused by high demand.
“There is no scarcity. The only problem is that our machine broke down. We have been selling since morning [Tuesday] but we have overused the machine and it has developed some problems,” he told our reporter.
“The machine is not working currently. It has developed some mechanical problem as result of the pressure. The other machine has been overused and currently not working. We have stopped using it so that it would cool off. That is why you are seeing the station crowded,” he said.