MONROVIA, Montserrado â€“ Liberiaâ€™s commerce and industry minister, Wilson Tarpeh, and the managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation, Marie Urey Coleman, appeared together on Tuesday, Feb. 4 before theÂ House of Representatives to explain the ongoing gasoline shortage on the market.
The two officials responded to a citation from the House based on a request from River Geeâ€™s first district representative, Alexander Poure, for more information on the underlying causes of the crisis and what government is doing to address it.
For several weeks now, fueling stations across the country have been littered with long lines of motorists seeking petroleum products. The situation has shown no signs of abating and it has driven an increase in the cost of transportation, as fuel has become scarce.
Although the ministry has surveillance programs that monitor the levels of essential commodities on the market such as petroleum, cement, drugs, and rice, it has been unable to prevent a petroleum shortage.
The commerce minister placed the blame at the feet of major importers who he said failed to bring in the full amount of petroleum products needed to meet long-term market demand. Minister Tarpeh quickly assured House members that negotiations were recently reached with major importers to begin to supply smaller importers and distributors to help ease the shortage.
â€œWe noticed that the amount of order of petroleum that was supposed to have been in the country did not come in,â€ he said. â€œWe have been working together â€“ LPRC and major importers [like] TOTAL [are] in now. They will now help to supply other smaller importers to reduce the queues. We have diversified the little that we had to other smaller stations so that this situation will come to an end.â€
LPRCâ€™s managing director, Marie Urey Coleman, attributed the shortage to restrictions by APM Terminals imposed upon vessels supplying Super Petroleum, TOTAL, Petro Trade, and other major importers due to ongoing maintenance at its offloading and storage facilities. This situation, she said, resulted in supplies for February being delayed beyond its December scheduled delivery.
Under APMâ€™s restrictions,Â only larger importers were permitted to bring in gasoline products and store them at a closed facility, which was reactivated due to new restrictions at the terminals.
Coleman insisted there is no gasoline shortage on the Liberian market, only that the restrictions introduced by APM negatively pressuredÂ larger importers, leaving smaller importers without gasoline. This situation was eventually transferred to consumers, triggering long queues at petrol stations and traffic congestion, she said.
â€œTotal stores their products at our Cornex terminal. We have enough of products at the Cornex Terminal, but for Total to supply the smaller suppliers, it has turned into an economic issue,â€ she added.
â€œLet me reassure you, lawmakers, that there is sufficient gasoline that can serve our public, and as we speak now, we still have sufficient gasoline in the country that will meet out monthly consumption.â€
Despite Colemanâ€™s assurances, most of the lawmakers, including Montserradoâ€™s 16th district lawmaker, Rep. Dixon Seboe, seemed dissatisfied and soon expressed deep displeasure over how exactly sufficient supplies could be available and yet serious shortages is being experienced across the country.
Rep. Johnson Gwaikolo of Nimbaâ€™s ninth district admonished the Ministry of Commerce and LPRC to move swiftly in partnership with major stakeholders to bring the situation under control. He then called upon the House speaker to constitute a special committee to independently investigate the situation and report to plenary within a week.
In response to Rep. Gwaikoloâ€™s request, Speaker Bhofal Chambers wasted no time in establishing a 21-person committee to probe the underlying causes of the shortage, which Commerce Ministry and LPRC officials say is artificial.
The committee will be headed by Rep. Zoe E. PennueÂ of Grand Gedehâ€™s first district and co-chaired by Nimbaâ€™s first district representative, Jeremiah Koung.Â Other members include Representatives Jimmy Smith of Montserradoâ€™s second district,Â Yekeh Kolubah of Montserradoâ€™s tenth district, Richard Koon of Montserradoâ€™s 11th district, Abu Kamara of Montserradoâ€™s 15th district, and Dixon Seboe of Montserradoâ€™s 16th district. The committee includes 15 other members from an assortment of districts across the country.
Featured photo by Ida Reeves