* Should assure consumers when to expect next fuel supplies after NOCMA declares situation as a crisis
* NOCMA issued a public alert on Tuesday, saying it has run out of both fuel and diesel in its Strategic Fuel Reserves
* Barely a week after assuring the public that it has enough fuel in the country
By Duncan Mlanjira
The fuel crisis that has “bedeviled the country over the past two weeks is a sign that the country is sitting on a time bomb and it calls for immediate action by the government”, says Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) in a statement made today, September 7.
This comes after National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) declared the fuel scarcity as a crisis yesterday, Tuesday, saying it has run out of both petrol and diesel in its Strategic Fuel Reserves — barely a week after assuring the public that it has enough fuel in the country.
Rather than just talk about the scarcity of fuel currently being experienced, Consumer Association of Malawi (CAMA) also asks the country’s leadership to assure the public when to expect next supplies.
In its statement, HRDC says the government’s silence on the situation on the ground is like its admitting that that the Tonse Alliance “has no solutions in sight for this crisis”, therefore the best is to “accept their shortcomings, step aside and let a competent team lead this country forward”.
“We urgently call upon President Lazarus Chakwera to address the nation on what is going on in the country and to explain what government is doing to normalise the situation,” said the statement from Gift Trapence, HRDC national chairperson.
“What is most troubling is that both the government and NOCMA are not giving Malawians convincing reasons as to the cause of this crisis and what solutions they have at hand, which prompts us to believe that they have no solutions at all.
“The fact that NOCMA audaciously attributed the fuel scarcity to an international music show and an international football match in Lilongwe two weeks ago is patronising, condescending, laughable and an insult to all right-thinking Malawians.
“On numerous occasions, NOCMA has claimed that they have fuel reserves to caution the country in times like these? Added to the fuel problem is the fact that, over the past three months, the country has and continues to suffer from erratic electricity supply and a shortage of forex.”
Trapence goes further to say the “on-going shortages of essential drivers of the economy points to a national crisis” and demands the leadership that “government should come out clearly on the issue and assure Malawians”.
“We demand that the government should lucidly explain what solutions they have put in place to address the issues of fuel scarcity, power blackouts and shortage of forex in the country.
“What we have on our hands is nothing short of a crisis because forex, fuel and electricity are the hub of running most businesses. In the absence of these, it means that businesses are crippled, and, in turn, the economy is being strangulated.
“At this rate, we run the risk of this country turning into a failed state, if it is not one already. The impression the President and his cabinet are creating is that they are silent spectators who are thinking that the problems will solve themselves or simply disappear on their own.
“But that is not what Malawians voted them into power for. What President Chakwera needs to know is that the country is in dire straits and life has become unbearable for ordinary Malawians.
“People have been suffering silently for a while but this time, because of government’s inaction in solving the problems, Malawians have been squeezed to a tight corner, they cannot breathe while their leaders are behaving as if everything is normal.”
In an interview today, CAMA’s Executive Director, John Kapito described the alert from NOCMA as “a really sad story”, adding that NOCMA had been “lying all along of the availability of fuel in the national reserves”.
“Now they have come out and issued a statement like this without even assuring consumers when to expect next supplies,” he said. “This is going too far by playing around with the peoples patience.
“Surprisingly, there is total silence from MERA, which is the regulator. This is handwork not befitting a country — we can’t allow amateurs like these ones to run the affairs of the country.
“Fuel is the heart of the country, it’s scarcity has negative implications to both country and individuals. This is pathetic and very shameful for the country’s leadership,” Kapito said.
Commentators on social media also concurred with Kapito, saying NOCMA should “come out full clean and warn in totality and indicatively” to declare “when the situation is going to turn around”.
“What are they doing?” asked one commentator. “For those that may be planning to travel by air, what is the situation with jet fuel? etc etc. Having a crisis for whatever reason — competence or not — is one thing but some forward thinking and managing the crisis with stakeholders is critical in such times.”
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, Trade and Tourism has obtained a subpoena for top management to appear before it on Friday this week without fail or face unspecified action.
Briefing journalists in Lilongwe yesterday, the Committee’s chairperson, Simplex Chithyola-Banda disclosed that NOCMA deputy chief executive officer, Helen Buluma was expected to appear before the committee with her officers to explain on the ongoing fuel shortage being experienced in the country — but she never did by giving an excuse.
Chithyola-Banda went further to warn NOCMA officials that they risk being in contempt of Parliament if they again fail to show up on Friday.
“We are yet to get details on their failure to appear before the committee but we hope they will honour the subpoena to avoid being in contempt of Parliament,” Chithyola-Banda said.
This piece of revelation also attracted public consternation, with Yamikani Kanyinji describing NOCMA as being “brimmed with drama” and that “it’s a failed institution”.
“Last time they embarrased fired staff in the papers. Their holier-than-thou attitude will push them into apocalypse. Get to serious business to fix the mess — NOCMA this and NOCMA that is such a monotonous song.”
Others hinted that it seems NOCMA top management “is untouchable” by the country’s leadership and that they are “holding this country to ransom and none of us seems to care”.
A source, who asked not to be mentioned blamed the Parliament Committee, saying they have themselves to blame for not taking any action on Secretary to the President & Cabinet (SPC) Colleen Zamba, who also failed to show up when she was also summoned before it.
They alluded that such a no-show by a high-ranking government officer — who happens be chairperson of NOCMA Board — provided a precedent, which NOCMA is following suit.
“If you let impunity roam free, then don’t blame others for doing the same. This is clear war between lip service government and Parliament,” he said.