Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (PANA) - Oil shortage was the main issue in Tanzanian newspapers this week, as the government and the frustrated public tussled with oil marketing companies to resume their supplies across the country.
By mid-week, papers reported that impatient taxicab operators, including those who run rickshaws and motorcycles to carry passengers, blocked roads leading to petrol stations in a bid to force the owners to start selling fuel.
After a week-long withdrawal of services at virtually every filling station in the country, the Tanzanian government Tuesday issued a compliance order to owners of the stations and oil importing companies to resume business.
The companies had closed oil depots and filling stations to boycott new prices set by the Energy and Water Utilities Regulatory Authority (EWURA), claiming the body had excessively lowered their profit margins after cutting old prices by 9.17 percent.
“Oil marketing companies ignored appeals from different authorities claiming that operating under the new EWURA pricing formula would have made them incur huge losses,” wrote the government-owned Daily News.
The paper went on: “The firms apparently conspired to withhold supplies to retail outlets, a move that adversely affected transport services throughout the country, while some threatened to close down their businesses altogether.
“This is totally unacceptable and the week-long behaviour by the oil firms deserves to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. It clearly exposed the firms as a gang of irresponsible and greedy people driven by nothing other than profiteering,” the daily said, describing their stance as a threat to the economy that should be met with punitive measures.
According to the same paper, the oil crisis was a big lesson to Tanzania “because it has apparently failed to benefit from liberalisation of the oil industry.”
In its editorial on the issue, Daily News recalled that by opening up the industry and allowing more players to operate the business, the country had expected oil prices to go down, but the situation on the ground was far from that anticipation.
“There are cases when oil prices went down in international markets but the trend was never reflected on the domestic scene, as the firms maintained their high prices,” the paper noted, urging the government to speed up its plan to procure oil in bulk and revive its oil refinery in Dar es Salaam.
In another comment on the issue, Daily News said: “Much as Tanzanians don’t want to discard the current free market economy system and go back to the old days when the government was doing business and fixed prices for all commodities, regulation is still highly desirable.
“Proper regulation will bring about market integrity and protect consumers from exploitation by greedy ‘get-rich-quick’ traders, who use many tricks including creating artificial shortage.”
Meanwhile, The Citizen reported that the Parliament adjourned its debate on the budget estimates of the Ministry of Industry and Trade in order to discuss the fuel crisis.
Members of the House launched a blistering attack on the government’s handling of the crisis, warning that it could ground the country and spark public riots.
“The government must demonstrate its authority and flex its muscle if it expects to get respect and win public support,” reported the private daily, quoting January Makamba, MP for Bumbuli constituency who moved a private motion asking the House to discuss the crisis.
During the discussion, The Citizen reported, one MP remarked that the government risked a public backlash if it “ran away” from its responsibility, while another member of the House who is also a veteran expert in the oil sector, said that he had warned the authorities that the system used to set ceiling prices for oil would create trouble.
As Tanzania’s businesses and individuals counted their losses as a result of the oil crisis, The Guardian daily posed some rhetorical questions with respect to what it called “weird developments” witnessed since last week:
“If we were to give oil dealers the benefit of doubt, how fair or realistic are the price adjustments announced by EWURA? Which genuine problems with oil supply, distribution, sale and pricing have existing mechanisms failed to find appropriate solutions to and why?
“Following suggestions from various quarters after the go-slow took effect in earnest that the incident had all the features of manipulation by some oil dealers bent on destabilisi8ng the market for their own selfish interests, posing the questions could serve as an eye-opener.
Observing numerous calls to oil dealers to have the interests of the nation at heart, The Guardian warned that playing weird games with oil supply, distribution, pricing and quality would be a recipe for untold economic and other catastrophes.
“Much as the government may wish to continue distancing itself from direct involvement in business, it should remember that oil is too important and strategic a sub-sector to be left at the mercy of fate,” the paper cautioned.
Away from the oil crisis, The African this week welcomed a proposed investment of US$5 million in cassava production in Tanzania’s Rufiji district of Coast Region by an American investor, FJS Starch Development Limited.
“We welcome this news because it promises a prosperous future to Coast Region that has been lagging behind in development and, of late, has been devastated by deforestation and environmental decline,” said the daily, pointing out that charcoal producers have hewed down natural forests, exposing the land to constant drought.
According to the paper, the proposed project would initially cover 2,000 hectares and create employment for about 1,000 youth on farms and in a starch factory. In addition, the venture would help several villages in the district enhance their food security.
According to the daily, Nigeria and Brazil are the world’s leading producers of cassava and they turn out more than 35 and 24 million tonnes respectively, followed by DR Congo and Ghana which produce 15 and eight million tonnes respectively.
Tanzania is the sixth cassava producer in Africa, with an estimated output of between five and six million tonnes annually.
Starting the week with the annual farmers’ festival, observed 8 August as a public holiday in Tanzania, several newspapers in the country also reflected on the agriculture industry.
The Guardian pointed to the need for policymakers to seriously address the question of enabling small farmers to deliver quality crops by ensuring timely availability of farm inputs, access to finance and improved agricultural mechanisation.
On its part, Daily News appealed for swift action to save Tanzania’s cotton farmers who were likely to abandon the cash crop and look for alternative ways of survival, as the price of cotton in the world market plummeted.
According to the paper, the main cotton growing area around Lake Victoria, which accounts for over 80 percent of the crop, faced its hardest time as the price went down. The situation was also compounded by the lack of market.
As a long-term strategy, the daily advised the government to revive the local textile industry which could consume most of the produce because presently Tanzanian mills take less than 10 percent and the rest of the cotton is exported.
The Citizen called for increased investment in agro-processing in order to eliminate post-harvest losses and cut down the high level of poverty in farming communities.
-0- PANA AR/SEG 13Aug2011