Monrovia — Late last Thursday, February 13, 2020, as a growing number of vehicles sat idly in line with faint hopes of acquiring gasoline, Finance and Economic Planning Minister Samuel Tweah wrote a government check for US$1,800,000 (one million, eight hundred thousand United States Dollars to ECOBANK at the Central Bank of Liberia serving as authorization to transfer US$150,000(one hundred and fifty thousand United States Dollars) and credit to the Liberian Embassy in Sierra Leone's account at Ecobank in connection with transporting petroleum products to Monrovia to help curb the shortage of gasoline.
As a result of that payment, a vessel, Hafnia Hope, carrying both gasoline and fuel left the Port of Elizabeth in Freetown Sunday bound for Monrovia. FrontPageAfrica has learned that the vessel which is due to arrive by 10am Monday has on it, some 25,000 metric tons of Premium Motor Spirit commonly referred to as Petrol.
According to government sources, more ships would be coming to stack up a 41-day reserves.
The vessel has already offloaded about 6,000 metric tons products which were transferred to some of the 20 trucks bound for emergency supply to Monrovia via Aminata.
Hafnia Vessel Had to Drop Weight
FrontPageAfrica has learned that the offload was necessary to reduce its weight to less than 9 meter because the National Port Authority which is currently being dredged cannot receive any ship above 10meter for now.
The products on the Hafnia are said to be owned by AMINATA, PETRO-TRADE, CONEX and another local supplier.
Another ship, the Ocean Mariners, is also bound for Liberia bring more fuel and gasoline in the tone of 5, 900 Metric Tons of PMS (gas). That vessel is due in Tuesday.
While the Hafnia vessel is expected to bring some relief at the pump, the shortage of gasoline which has been ongoing for nearly a month had reached a point of desperation, forcing the Weah administration to turn to an old nemesis for a helping hand.
Mr. Siaka Toure, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Aminata & Sons Incorporated, a castaway of sorts whose business took a hit since the new government took over in January 2018.
On social media, many began singing Mr. Toure's praises, and hailing him as the one who had saved the day for the government.
Aminata was forced to clarify that although it had initiated negotiations with sellers and the government of Sierra Leone to buy and deliver products to Liberia, the effort could never have materialized without the intervention of the Weah administration. "We hereby used this medium to clarify that said gasoline was entirely paid for by the government of Liberia. Aminata & Sons Incorporated partnered with the government to transport the gasoline using our tankers."
The company says it remains not only a business entity but also a trusted partner to Liberia. "We will at all times work with the government of Liberia as we have done over the decades to serve the people of Liberia."
Genesis of a Shipment
Due to the shortage, Mr. Toure had already began negotiating with his business associates in neighboring Sierra Leone when Liberian authorities came knocking.
"When this shortage started, we were given assurances, meaning Aminata was given assurance by LPRC that if we bring in product, it will be secured. Based on that assurance, we put in for a supply," Toure told FrontPageAfrica Sunday. "We loaded 5,000 metric tons on a vessel that was scheduled to arrive on the 9th of February to the 10th. Then, we later got to know that this vessel would be delayed by a week and would instead arrive on the week of the 16th. We also knew that the little product that was in the country could not supply during that week, it was a very serious week."
In a bid to avert the ongoing shortage, Toure explains he flew one of his staffers to Sierra Leone and started making negotiations to load trucks from Sierra Leone to Monrovia. "We lined up our trucks, we went to our Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone for Liberia and at that point, the ambassador says to us, he cannot give that laissez passer unless he hears from his government."
Fortunately, he said, he already had a staffer in Freetown. "We asked him to see the minister of trade which is equivalent to the minister of commerce and the minister took us to the chief minister who is either the vice president or the next person to the president in Sierra Leone."
At that level, the chief minister and the finance minister said to us that getting product from Sierra Leone in Liberia without the two governments' consent is considered smuggling - at that point."
Government Under Fire
This is when he explained that the Liberian government came in and wanted to know how much gasoline they Aminata was looking to transport to Liberia. "We told them we were bringing only five hundred tons. They decided to increase it to 2,000 tons instead of 500 tons. Since we had the trucks everything lined up, we've been in Freetown so it was very easy. Everything started moving easily. The government did the final negotiations for Freetown to agree and to also pay for the product."
Over the past few days, the Weah administration has come under fire for allowing the shortage of gasoline to reach a level where it has disrupted normal economic activities. Critics charge that at any given time the Government should have a reserve stock of gasoline to prevent recent disruptions.
In response to critics, the Government, through the Ministry of Information and Cultural Affairs and Tourism, has countered that this situation was unavoidable because of the unreliability of stock data that was available to the Government.
According to Minister Nagbe at a press briefing the Government had been informed that some 10,000 metric tons of fuel was always available in the tank at LPRC. This situation was found not to be the case as petroleum importers began disclosing that LPRC data is misleading. This prompted the President to establish a Committee headed by Minister of State without Portfolio, Trokon Kpui, to investigate the situation.
Some analysts believe that If the Government was misled by data on the available level of stock, then this cuts the Government some slack, since every Government must rely on basic information to make decisions. Says one analyst, 'no government goes to the extent of distrusting or doubting information reported by relevant agencies because these entities should not be in the business of misreporting or lying.' Added the analyst: 'considering the situation, the Government will now begin to distrust reporting from entities and will set up teams to verify what entities are saying. This makes the business of governing much more difficult.'
To address the shortage, the Government through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, had to procure emergency supply to the tone of 2000 metric tons of gas from neighboring Sierra Leone, which analyst say can last for about 4 to 5 days. This supply can tide the country over while a ship containing more than 10,000 metric tons arrives by Tuesday or Wednesday. Government sources say additional stock will be procured form Sierra Leone until the ship's berthing at the Free Port of Monrovia is assured.
With some relief in sight, industry observers say the Weah administration must begin to undertake proactive stance in a bid to avert future shortage of gasoline.
For Toure, a couple of key steps are crucial to averting shortage.
"There are a series of things the government can do. Number one, they have to stop what we call provisional lifting at LPRC, totally, it has to stop; number two, the provisional listing as we speak is around 12,000 metric ton which is under investigation. The president has set up an investigation team to probe that. At the end of that investigation, all the importers who have inventory that have not received, need to be redeemed somehow but for the time being there must be a stop on the lifting of all the products that are under this provisional listing."
The second step, Mr. Toure suggested is the reinstatement of the transparency report which were initiated by the late Harry Greaves, a former Managing Director of the Liberian Petroleum Refining Company.
Explained Mr. Toure: "Harry Greaves set up a system where each importer knew his own inventory and other people inventory and as a result everyone knew the total inventory in the country. That report was sent to all the importers, was sent to all the managers at LPRC, a copy was sent to the Executive Mansion, a copy was sent to Finance Ministry, a copy to Commerce Ministry, there was no surprise. The good news is, the government has started the investigation in the outstanding, the government has promised that it will start the transparency report immediately. We should be fine."
As for how long the shipment due in today will carry over? Many Liberians remain skeptical but the Toure says as long as the government stick to its promises with importers, Liberia may have seen the worst of the shortages.
"How long it will take is no longer important because the vessel is due in Monday. The ones on the trucks from Freetown is only a very small quantity for emergency situation. The way people are giving too much credence to it, it is just to hold us over until the ship with gasoline arrive. It is not much at all. The one that is coming today, will take us for more than a month and we are going to place another order again. Other people will place orders."
For the foreseeable future, Mr. Toure says he is focusing on helping the government to ensure that there is no more shortage of gasoline or fuel. So, I'm doing everything in my power to avoid it from happening. So, I'm working with the government and I'm sure that we will succeed. Because those things I have listed to you, they are in agreement with all. The transparency reporting will start immediately - and everybody will know how much gasoline is in the country and how far it can take us. The steps the government is proposing to take, once they take them, there will be no shortage."
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