THE Kitwe Chamber of Commerce has demanded full transparency into the actual causes of the fuel shortages that hit the Copperbelt Province, saying the commodity has been in short supply before the truck drivers’ protest.

And the Chamber says the black market has started thriving where fuel is being sold at an inflated price per litre as a result of the acute shortages.

Meanwhile, the situation has briefly stabilised in some parts of the Copperbelt as supply of the commodity has resumed.

Commenting on the fuel shortages that hit the Copperbelt and North-Western provinces this month, Chamber vice-president in charge of commerce Emmanuel Mbambiko urged government to adequately sensitise all stakeholders on the real causes of fuel shortages because the commodity had been in short supply even before the truck drivers’ protest erupted a week ago.

“This is not good for us because we are just coming from the terror of COVID-19 and you want to have fuel upfront for battle. But if you are fighting too many things, you don’t know what to do. This issue of fuel is not helpful for business. Now, what is even worse is we are hearing that this is because of the truck drivers that have gone on strike. But the truth of the matter on the other hand is that, we know that there are some filling stations, which haven’t had fuel before those truck drivers went on strike! So, we are wondering what is the truth about this fuel; is it the truckers or is there something much more that we don’t know?” Mbambiko wondered.

“So, we can’t have too many uncertainties, it’s not helpful for us, as business people. The best we can do is to implore those friends of ours in power to, for once, tell us what is the actual truth around this fuel shortage and when we can expect things to normalise so that we can then plan properly because other people are saying Indeni (Petroleum Refinery) is not in production, and probably, all the fuel is just being imported in incomplete form. Now, whether that is true or not, you don’t know…”

He urged Energy Minister Matthew Nkhuwa to issue a “truthful” ministerial statement to explain the fuel crisis facing the local economy.

“It’s very important that he must issue a ministerial statement and, hopefully, that ministerial statement must be truthful! Because I listened to that other (Transport and Communications) Minister, Mutotwe Kafwaya, on the radio who was saying, ‘it (fuel shortages) was to do with the truckers, and that now that the truckers are on the road, things will normalise…’ And I said to myself, ‘that’s not true!’ Because I know that in the last two weeks, we haven’t had fuel in some filling stations, and that was before the strike! So, I said to myself: ‘how truthful is this gentleman, Kafwaya?’ Because they get free fuel so things of this nature don’t impact them so he probably may not have known before so on that basis, one can excuse him. But for those of us who run business and get fuel from the filling stations, we know what’s been happening,” Mbambiko said.

“But we hope that the other Minister (Nkhuwa) will speak from an informed position and not out of ignorance.”

And Mbambiko revealed that the black market had inflated the price of fuel per litre as a result of the fuel shortages.

“There are cases where guys are having to sell fuel on the black market at a premium! Now, the issue is the cost of that premium because you can’t increase the cost of goods and that doesn’t help at all. Kitwe was hit first because by last week when I was trying to fuel up, I couldn’t find fuel at the filling station where I normally get the fuel from, and by the time I was leaving, I drove into Lusaka on Friday, and coming back, you found fuel in Ndola, but it was equally getting affected. I listened to someone this morning on the radio from Solwezi, he couldn’t get fuel so they got fuel from the black market. So, it’s affected everyone from Copperbelt up to North-Western Province. But I got a call from a member from Lusaka to say that, ‘they didn’t have fuel so couldn’t travel back today, meaning that the whole country is affected,” said Mbambiko.

Speaking during a press briefing in Lusaka last Wednesday, Nkhuwa assured all stakeholders that the country had sufficient fuel stocks following weeks of uncertainty caused by acute fuel shortages on the Copperbelt and North-Western provinces.

Nkhuwa said despite the truck drivers’ strike in protest over poor conditions of service, which disrupted the supply of fuel to various parts of the country, Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) had told him that supply was being normalised.

“I wish to assure the nation that there are enough fuel stocks in the country and more stocks are on the way imported by various OMCs. This (Wednesday) morning, I held a meeting with various OMCs at my office at which they assured government that they had enough stocks in their depots and they were expecting more to arrive in the country,” Nkhuwa told journalists.

“I, therefore, wish to state that the erratic supply of fuel that has been experienced in some parts of the country is being normalised. During the meeting with the OMCs, it became clear that the shortage was mainly due to the strike by the truck drivers, which disrupted the delivery cycle of fuel to the depots and filling stations around the country. This triggered panic buying by members of the public.”

Meanwhile, the situation has briefly stabilised in some parts of the Copperbelt as supply of the commodity has resumed.

According to witnesses in Ndola, by Friday last week, only four filling stations had the commodity.

The same day, social media was awash of citizens posting pictures themselves in long queues waiting for their chance to get the commodity, a situation that prompted the Road Transport and Safety Agency (RTSA) to allow trucks carrying the commodity to move during the night.

In a joint statement with the Energy Regulation Board, the Agency stated that the waiver would stay in place until distribution of petroleum products had completely stabilised countrywide.

“The RTSA, in consultation with the ERB, have sanctioned road fuel tankers to transport fuel beyond the restricted period of 18:00 hours to 06:00 hours to ensure the steady and stable supply of fuel across the country. Therefore, there will be no enforcement of Statutory Instrument No. 76 of 2016, which restricts the movement of Public Service Vehicles at night for all trucks transporting fuel,” read a statement.

“This measure is in addition to the waiver of clause 6.2.2 (g) in the Zambian Standard ZS 372: Transportation of Petroleum Products and Operational Requirements for Road Tank Vehicles – Code of Practice, which prohibits the movement of fuel road tankers carrying petroleum products between 18:00 hours and 06:00 hours. The waiver will remain in force until the distribution of fuel to all parts of the country is stable. Traffic law enforcement officers are therefore advised to ensure the smooth flow of traffic and accord express clearance to fuel tankers to facilitate prompt delivery of fuel in the country.”