How does that rub-off on Sierra Leoneans?
February 20, 2015 By Alusine Sesay
Sierra Leone is a beautiful country with beautiful people who are ready to accept whatever phenomenon that confronts them. They are satisfied with whatever situation even if it pains them because they have a resolve that God is there for all. Having learnt some bitter lessons during the civil war and the Junta days of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) and Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), when military men and rebels seriously violated the rights of many, Sierra Leoneans hardly take to the street in protest for their rights, but would rather grumble in their quiet corners and leave their case to God.
Such characteristic calmness and cowardice is seriously haunting the prospect of the country and citizenry, and those in authority are taking great advantage of it. The public would just make noise about things and keep quiet, thus allowing it to die a natural death. And I bet you, we will continue in this mess till thy kingdom come.
Quite recently, following the drop in the price of oil in the world market, the government of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, made public announcements to the effect that there would be a reduction in petroleum prices and transportation fares. But the frequently asked question is that: has such been transformed into reality through effective implementation?
I believe many Sierra Leoneans like yours truly would be asking such rhetorical question amidst the charade of a reduction in transport fares. This is so because despite a significant reduction in the price of crude oil, prices of basic commodities, which normally increase in the event of an increase in pump price, remain the same in Sierra Leone. Transportation cost too remains the same, despite a public notice to the contrary. Therefore, the question that begs for an answer is whether the cosmetic reduction in fuel prices has rub-off on the average Sierra Leonean?
The price of crude oil dropped from $115 per barrel to $49 per barrel in January 2015. That is a significant development especially for low income and non-oil producing countries like Sierra Leone. I am not a mathematician but would attempt to proffer that the percentage drop was over 50% .When news about the decrease in pump prices broke out and with the intervention of the media and some civil society groups, the government of Sierra Leone cut the prices of petroleum products from Le4,500 to Le3,750, with a corresponding reduction in transportation fares from Le1,000 to Le800.
Despite this move by the government, things remain the same as at yesterday. Transportation cost in Freetown remains the same and as usual, passengers negotiate their ways or keep standing for the rest of the day. If you don’t negotiate for two or three ways, drivers would constantly snub you and look for the highest bidder.
Transportation in Freetown in particular is now akin to a competitive bidding process in which the highest bidders are served well. Drivers now have a field day inflicting financial hardship on poor passengers as there is nobody to remedy the situation.
It is even more appalling for people travelling to the provinces. The Ebola outbreak has seen many checkpoints being manned by the Military and the Police, who are there to extort monies from commercial drivers. For the drivers, they are willing to offer bribes, although passengers do bear the brunt. In all of this, Minister of Transport and Aviation, Leonard Balogun Koroma, has kept mute and passive.
The same is true of importers who are known to agitate for an increase when the price of crude oil escalates. I could remember when the price of crude oil skyrocketed few years ago, importers made all sorts of noise and punished customers with higher prices of basic commodities. Now that the price of oil has dropped, they have failed to reciprocate by reducing the prices of commodities. This is a case for the Ministry of Trade and Industry, charged with the responsibility to ensure all stakeholders, including consumers, are given a fair deal.
Naturally, the reduction in the price of oil at the world market should reflect on the livelihood of the ordinary citizen vis-à-vis the reduction in the prices of basic commodities, but this is not the case in Sierra Leone. The drop in oil price should have been a blessing in disguise, especially when the country is suffering from serious economic hardship. It should be an opportunity that all citizens should enjoy and not the selected few.
Therefore, the government must ensure that the de-escalation in the global price of crude oil reflects on the livelihood of all Sierra Leoneans. Sierra Leoneans may not want to take to the streets because of the bitter lessons of the past, but are really tired of the grim realities in terms of bread and butter issues amid the noise.