November 21, 2016 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
Welling meaning Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad are perplexed at how government, in an unholy alliance with fuel marketers, decided to wreck more hardship on the citizenry by increasing the pump price of fuel from Le3,750 to Le6000! This represents a whopping 60 percent increase, thus unsurprisingly irking many citizens.
Prior to the scandalous increase, the government had gone on a wild geese charm offensive around the country in a desperate bid to pacify the minds of the people about the coming economic Armageddon. Spearheaded by the Ministry of Information, both the minister and his deputy spent more than a month telling the citizenry that government cannot continue to subsidise fuel because the benefit goes to individuals while the burden is placed on the public treasury and by extension the people, by way of payment of billions in subsidy. They have been quick to bring the International Monetary Fund (IMF) into the mix – the same body that has warned against the foolhardy decision to build a new airport at Mamamah, which the government has kicked against!
Again, we were told the preposterous reason for cutting subsidy was to curb cross-border ‘smuggling’ of fuel to neighbouring countries, with Guinea named in an otherwise disastrous public relations gaffe by the Information Ministry. It took the Guinean ambassador in Freetown no time to debunk the claim and remind government that both the Mano River and ECOWAS treaties entreat member states to encourage cross-border trade and to harmonise prices where necessary so that smuggling could be mitigated.
Apparently the ruse of a sting operation by the police in Kambia to crack down on fuel ‘smugglers’ was all part of the plot by a government which claims to be pro-people to sanction further hardship and misery on the people.
The increase in pump price is to all intents and purposes an insensate decision by this government to further pile more economic burden on a poor and Ebola weary people. First it was the unannounced increase in electricity tariff, then the planned addition in the cost of water supply by an otherwise inefficient water supply company, and now the controversial astronomical increase in the pump price.
It is controversial because the numbers just don’t add up! First, it emerged from Parliament last week that the price ought to have been Le5,500 and introduced in 2017. Second, the government has been less than convincing to clarify whether in fact they had paid subsidy for the whole of 2016 or not, and if the former is true, why would any government which claims to be pro-people hoodwink them?
Perhaps more significantly, the government has been circumspect to tell the citizenry the latest price mechanism formula they used to arrive at Le6000. A government which preaches and claims to practice transparency and accountability should be seen doing same. The fact is that there is more to the figures than the government is willing to tell the people, and there lies the grand deception.
Document we are privy to reveals that for each litre of petrol, diesel or kerosene consumers buy, even after the removal of subsidy, the government deducts charges for, inter alia, demurrage, excise duty, petrojetty, and infrastructural development fund. The question is, why would poor masses and not oil marketers pay for demurrage? How much is deposited in the much vaunted infrastructural development fund and is it equitably distributed among all 14 districts?
The people are angry, and justifiably so, for not being told the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The reason being, when it is boom time, the elites lavishly spend the spoils, sometimes on phantom projects, but when it’s bust time, the poor masses are made to pay for the bad decisions and mismanagement of public funds.
As the poor masses mourn another betrayal by a government they happily voted in twice, this should be time for serious soul searching as to why we went wrong again despite a beckoning promise in the early days. President Koroma promised to turnaround the economy in 36 months; yet what he has achieved in nine years is an unprecedented economic meltdown, with no clue as to reversing the seeming downward spiral we are in.
Perhaps it is high time the people remove the cataract of deception, hate messages, fear and falsehoods by electing those who mean well for the country; not people who seek public office to satisfy their insatiable appetite for power, money and fame.