Members of the Single-Pump Owners and Operators' Association (SPOOA) are planning a demonstration today, expressing their disappointment with the ministry of Trade, Industry, and Cooperatives.
This follows closure of over 72 single-pump fuel stations in Mukono, Mpigi and Wakiso for failure to obtain trading licences.
"These people have been unfairly closed. We shall go through the taxi park [where most of our clients are] and proceed to Parliament, where we shall present a petition to the Speaker," Sharif Kayiwa, the SPOOA spokesperson, said.
The single-pump operators claim that the ministry has ignored their pleas for a grace period as they try to meet the required standards. "We wrote to the ministry's permanent secretary asking for an extension but he replied by closing down our members," Kayiwa says.
An excerpt of a letter addressed to the permanent secretary dated 0ctober 10, 2012, reads: "We request to be given some more time to accomplish what we have begun. We promise to give you a monthly report on each station."
Despite this request, and a subsequent letter on December 6th, all stations without licences are being closed in what they call a plot to eliminate them at the expense of big players.
"We operate in a liberalized economy where we expect government to empower us (local small scale investors) other than fighting us, as it looks today" said SPOOA chairman Fred Ssegawa.
When single-pump owners met with ministry officials in June this year, they agreed on several requirements which all operators had to meet (in four months) to obtain a trading licence. These included getting off the road reserves, expanding their premises, installing a shelter, and obtaining an environmental audit from National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). Although some operators had tried to meet these requirements, four months was too short for the others to meet the standards.
"I paid Shs 2m for the NEMA audit, and I relocated out of the road reserve, but when the officials came, they only asked for a license, which I don't have, and they closed my station," said Esther Kayobyo, whose pump at Kasokoso, Wakiso was closed.
The single-pump operators are rivaled by the big players who claim the former not only sell cheaply, but are also involved in selling adulterated fuel. But Ssegawa says many of these claims are baseless. "We do not import fuel. We buy from depots, some of which are owned by the big players. Adulterating fuel is on individual basis and it can happen anywhere even with big companies," he said.
"On the issue of price, it is just that single-pump owners incur less overhead costs than the big players, which explains the price difference."
Kayiwa says they are willing to cooperate with the ministry. "We have done our best to mobilize our members to make the adjustments, and indeed they have done. But it is so absurd that they are being repaid with closure. We are only requesting for a six-month extension to meet these requirements."
"We have tried to be harmonious but we have been pushed to the wall. We are now coming with all our family members for this demonstration," Kayiwa added.