ISSUE: Hike in the prices of petroleum products versus electricity outages: Freetown in dilemma

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By Alhaji Haruna Sani

The continuous hike in pump prices of petroleum products coupled with the frequent electricity outages in Freetown have left many Sierra Leoneans in a no-win situation. The twin problems have exacerbated an unbearable high cost of living in the country.

The official prices of petroleum products has just risen from Le 18,000 to 22,000 per litre, which was preceded by recent scarcity of petroleum products that was sold at a minimum of Le 25,000 in black markets in Freetown and sold at least Le35,000 to 45,000 per litre in the provinces.

The debilitating fuel crisis left hundreds of private cars, commercial buses, tricycles, bikes and individuals with jerry cans waiting in stretched queues in filling stations across Freetown and other parts of the country to purchase the products.

The country is currently looming in total doom as citizen’s fear that the fuel shortage could pose serious long-term implications for the already shrinking economy of the country.

As Sierra Leoneans continue to live with a lot of uncertainty as to when and how the problem of soaring prices would be salvaged, government officials are steadfastly blaming almost all the problems of the nation on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which, according to them, was among the causes of increment fuel price in the world market and hike in prices of other commodities.

Of course, all right thinking human being would not be oblivious of the fact that the war between Russia and Ukraine backed up by the Covid-19 pandemic has a devastating effect on all economies. The cry of many Sierra Leoneans has been in a form of a question as to what the government has done or is doing to cushion the effect. Many believe that government has done little or nothing to save the country’s economy.

In recent months, the pump price of petroleum products has risen from Le8500 to Le10,000 to Le12,000, Le 15,000 , 18,000  and now Le 22,000.

Following the latest hike in the fuel pump price, popular female opposition politician, Femi Claudius-Cole posted on her Facebook page that:

“We are not dead but we are being buried under the No phenomenon: No fuel, no light, no water, no freedom of speech and no freedom to assemble and protest. The no phenomenon, When will the people catch a break? Oh NO!

Reuters and BBC correspondent in Freetown, Umaru Fofanah also posted on his social media account that “We feel like suspending publication of our newspaper. Advertising is few and far between. Cover price can hardly cover any costs. Yet the cost of production materials keeps soaring. Now fuel price has more than double (Le 22,000) in just a few months.

Also Augustine Sorie-Sengeh Marrah, leading civil and commercial litigator, top constitutional expert, and democracy activist posted “New Direction! New currency! New fuel price! New inflation! New hardship! New article loading…

Sierra Leone, especially the country’s capital has also been witnessing intermittent widespread power outages since the start of December 2021. Authorities in have never given any clear reasons as to what or who is responsible for the problem in hand. Instead, a recent increment in the electricity tariff has been made adding more economic burden on ordinary citizens.

Until recently when it was revealed that the country is struggling to pay its biggest supplier of electricity on time, Karpowership (KP), a Turkish subsidiary which accounts for more than half of the electricity supply in Sierra Leone, has been rationing Power supply in response to accumulating arrears from the government.

According to KP, the government owed US$36 million in unpaid arrears and therefore has been in violation of a previously agreed payment schedule.

The current Power Purchase Ageemgnt or PPA, was signed in 2020 for 5 years, between the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA) on behalf of government and KP. Under the current contract, the agreed price is dependent on the variable global cost of fuel.

High technical and commercial losses at EDSA have resulted in low recovery of revenues. All EDSA obligations are guaranteed by the government of Sierra Leone (GoSL), including the arrears owed to KP, and will most likely have a direct impact on the federal budget.

The Kar Poweship last week wrote a letter to the Government of Sierra Leone through the Ministry of Finance noticing that unless they receive outstanding invoices, they cannot continue operations further than July 5th 2022.

“If by the 5th of July 2022 we do not receive payment, we regret to inform you that we shall be unable to generate and supply electricity due to the inability to supply crucial components and part of the Powership including lube oil and spare parts. We hope to receive the payment prior to the 5th of July so that we can continue operations”, the letter reads.