Malawians should brace for a fuel shortage and possible increase in pump prices should the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) plans to hold five-day anti-Jane Ansah protests at the country’s ports of entry materialise.
Officials from the National Oil Company of Malawi (Nocma) Limited and Malawi Energy Regulatory Authority (Mera) said in separate interviews yesterday that the border closure, scheduled for August 26 to 30, could worsen the flow of goods and business, which has already been slow since protests began.
Nocma spokesperson Telephorous Chigwenembe warned that if the borders are closed for five days, the country will be dry in terms of fuel supply.
He said the country is yet to recover fully from effects of Cyclone Idai which hit Beira Port and disrupted the flow of fuel supply, forcing Nocma to use big volumes of fuel in the strategic fuel reserves.
Said Chigwenembe: “If the borders are closed next week as planned by demonstrators, the country will be dry in terms of fuel supply. Suppliers will not be able to bring fuel from the ports and trucks won’t be able to leave the country to load fuel at the ports.”
He said since the start of the demonstrations, suppliers have reduced the amount of fuel brought into the country because of the risks involved.
“This has also affected the rate at which we are able to replenish the volumes we used to counter the impact of Cyclone Idai,” said Chigwenembe.
On his part, Petroleum Importers Limited (PIL) chairperson Charles Chuka said as suppliers, they look up to government to create an environment for businesses, and would, therefore, not make ‘political’ comments on what would happen should the borders be closed.
However, a source at PIL, who opted for anonymity, stated that the country does not have enough fuel and any disturbance would worsen the situation.
“We import an average of six million litres of fuel per week, so if it happens that we don’t import next week, it means we won’t have that much. We are in a peak season where the demand for fuel is high, but we do not have enough stocks.
“But we are trying to import a lot in case the demonstrations take place. You also need to know that a crisis in fuel could also affect electricity generation because Nocma supplies fuel for diesel gensets,” said the source.
On his part, Mera chief executive officer Collins Magalasi said in a country like Malawi where all fuel comes through the borders, any closure of border posts would be catastrophic.
He said closing the borders for one day means the country will not be able to bring in one million litres of fuel, adding in a day the country uses between one million and 1.5 million litres of fuel.
Said Magalasi: “Since the demonstrations started, it has become very expensive to bring in fuel because due to security risks, insurance companies have raised premiums, and we have to hire extra security to accompany the vehicles.
“We have not raised pump prices because of the stabilisation fund, but that too is shrinking. So, if the borders are shut down, let me be very honest, Malawians will feel the pinch.”
While Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) could not say how much the country will lose on revenue in a week, we have established that Songwe Border Post alone could lose K600 million revenue if it stays closed for five days.
During a recent visit by Minister of Trade, Industry and Tourism Salim Bagus, MRA station officer for Songwe Border Innocent Bamusi stated that they have a daily target of K120 million.
According to Bamusi, they clear an average of 50 tracks, 35 small vehicles and facilitate movement of about 300 people every day.
Already, MRA has applied to the High Court for an injunction to restrict HRDC planned demonstrations to outside its premises at the borders. The application will be heard tomorrow at the High Court in Blantyre.
An analysis in our sister paper Weekend Nation on Saturday estimated that government could lose revenue in excess of K1 billion from the aviation sector through the protests.
Department of Civil Aviation deputy director (Regulation) James Chakwera said apart from foregone tax revenue to government, other costs would come in in terms of under-utilised labour for all service providers, idle or under-utilised assets, extra costs associated with disrupted long-haul travel such as lodging and connecting flights for passengers unable to proceed to Lilongwe.
The K1 billion rough approximations comprise of consolidated revenue estimates for all commercial passenger airliners estimates of revenue acquired by the airports managers, Airport Development Limited (ADL) and the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) through airport fees and other commercial activities.
In an interview yesterday, Chakwera said they are beefing up security at airports, considering what has been happening in other countries during protests.
He said: “We are constantly in touch with airlines. Actually, we have been having meetings. They are equally concerned and we have been working on sharing information on what is it that we will be expecting and how we can handle it.
“Our position will be to make sure that we beef up the security and of course airlines will be able to make their own assessment and decide whether they feel they can continue with the services or to hold on a bit,” he added.
Meanwhile, Department of Immigration spokesperson Joseph Chauwa has said although they are trying to strategise on how to provide services, such strategies should be multisectoral.
He said officials from the department will have to discuss with counterparts from the police, MRA and Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) to strategise.
“We are trying to see how we will be able to perform, but as a department we are also preparing independently to ensure that our offices should be open so that those who need services are able to access them.”
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera said briefly “we will deal with the situation as it comes” and did not take any further questions.
Since the protests started in June this year, the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) has been helping police to maintain law and order.
MDF spokesperson Paul Chiphwanya said when requested to offer help, they will step-in as they have been doing in the previous protests as it is a constitutional mandate for the MDF to do so.
Yesterday, HRDC vice-chairperson Gift Trapence maintained their resolve to force Ansah out of MEC.
“Ansah is holding the country to ransom. It’s just a simple thing, resign. Why is she clinging to the position? We will do this until she resigns,” he said.
The HRDC has been holding demonstrations since the announcement of the May 21 presidential election results to force Ansah to resign and pave the way for investigations to identify and prosecute those who supplied Tippex used to alter elections figures.
Ansah, a judge of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal, has dismissed calls for her to resign.