MERA warns filling stations from hoarding fuel; assures public of sufficient fuel stocks

* Retail stations are suspected to be hoarding fuel in anticipation of price increase

* MERA reiterates that such malpractice is prohibited and punishable by law

* Report any suspected fuel hoarding by calling 0992558564/0999896310 or email mera@mera.mw

By Duncan Mlanjira

Following the strike by truck drivers that include those that ferry fuel, Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (MERA) has assured the public not to panic as there are sufficient stocks of fuel in the country in a total of 10 million liters of petrol and 32 million of diesel.

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MERA says these volumes translate into 28-days stock cover for petrol and 54 for diesel and authorities are “making every effort to address the fuel stockouts experienced at some retail stations that has been caused by the drivers strike”.

However, some fuel retail stations are suspected to be hoarding fuel in anticipation of price increase and MERA reiterates that such malpractice is prohibited by law.

MERA thus warns in its statement that it will apply stiff penalties to any retail station found to engage in such malpractice and also advises the public to report any suspected fuel hoarding by calling 0992558564/0999896310 or email mera@mera.mw.

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This suspected fuel hoarding comes after a statement from MERA on September 14 that following the increase to landed cost of petrol, diesel and paraffin, it was considering the landed costs and other economic factors to establish appropriate prices of the petroleum products.

MERA had said since the determination of the current  pump prices in March 2021, the landed costs of petrol had increased by 20.44%, diesel by 12.03% and paraffin by 12.23% — but the landed cost of aviation fuel (Jet A1) have reduced by an average of 1.38% when compared to last review done in July 2021.

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“The key factors that affect the landed costs of petroleum prices are the prices of refined petroleum products on the international market and thevexhange rate of the Malawi kwacha against major currencies

“As at 7th September, 2021, the price Stabilization Fund balances for petrol, diesel and paraffin average K1.5 billion against the recommended minimum of K5 billion.

“Under the Automatic Pricing Mechanism, which was adopted in 2012, the prices are adjusted when the change in the landed cost is beyond the plus or minus 5% trigger band.”

MERA had said the outcome of the energy price reviews will be communicated in due course, thus some filling stations trying to hoard fuel to reap on the anticipated upward prices of fuel.

Previous strike by truck drivers

Meanwhile, among other things, the truck drivers are on strike demanding salary adjustments or go over the minimum wage that the government set.

However, through the Ministry of Labour, government reiterates that it fixed the minimum wage for international truck drivers at K140,000 per month effective January 1, 2021 after consultation with all relevant stakeholders including the transporters and truck drivers themselves.

The Ministry notes that some transporters are still not complying with the set minimum wage and warns such employers of facing punishment as according to Section 55 of the Employment Act of 2000, whose violation carries maximum penalty of 10 years imprisoment.

“All non-complying employers are therefore advised to immediately take corrective measures and at the same time, truck drivers who are being paid below the minimum wage are asked to report to the ministry for appropriate action,” said the Ministry in a press statement.

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However, the truck owners — under Fuel Transporters Association of Malawi — are also part of the strike, demanding that the government should come up with deliberate policies to protect them.

They are arguing that the government should stop giving majority of transportation contracts to foreign transporters, claiming that they are failing to meet the drivers’ K140,000 minimum wage due to the challenge and the low payments they get for their services.

Thus they resolved to pull out all their vehicles from the road in support of the drivers’ low salary grievances.

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Commentators on social media insinuate that truck haulage operators are “deliberately paying their drivers as low as K40,000 per month” so as to force their employees to go on strike and taint a bad image on President Lazarus Chakwera’s Administration that it is failing to manage fuel stocks.

One other commentator hinted that some of the drivers on strike are not employed at all — with some having been fired for unprofessional conduct and theft.

Most of the indisciplined individuals, especially in Lilongwe, are picketing drivers who are satisfied with their jobs and are acting calmly and professionally but forced to join the strike.

Another said much as it is appreciated that everyone has a right to a strike or a stay away, but the truck drivers sometimes go overboard by forcing everyone else to join the strike — including those who don’t have grievances.

The ones who picket others reach the point of deflate other drivers’ truck tyres and this impunity, the Facebook commentator, said shouldn’t be condoned — “It feels like it’s a sabotage of some sort”.

A fuel attendant confided in us that some filling station owners were contemplating asking the authorities to involve Malawi Defence Force to escort fuel tankers whose drivers and owners are not part of the strike.