Thursday, October 29, 2020

Fuel supply gets better but fear lingers

The fuel shortage in Botswana that resulted in panic and long queues in the past two weeks appeared to be coming under control after the government implemented restrictions aimed at quelling the rising anger over the shortage of the important commodity. 

On Monday there were almost no queues of motorists at major filling stations in the capital city Gaborone,  a sign that the situation might be normalising after President Mokgweetsi ‘s intervention on Thursday where he announced emergency regulations to ration fuel and reduce operating hours of fuelling stations. 

Botswana’s fuel crisis started in last week of June when it became apparent that most fuel stations did not have enough fuel in reserves,  sparking fears among motorists to rush for fuel pumps. The government – through the ministry of minerals, energy and green technology and the state-owned Botswana Oil – initially downplayed reports of fuel shortages in the landlocked country, assuring citizens that the supply and demand mismatch will be resolved within three days. 

However, the fuel shortages continued, characterised by long queues of frustrated motorists who had to compete with other consumers hoarding  the fuel through containers such as jerry cans. A week later, the energy ministry admitted that the situation was worsening due supply disruptions, revealing that Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) which bring 90 percent of fuel in the country were getting lower volumes than before, forcing Botswana oil to release 30 million litres of strategic and commercial fuel stock to assist OMCs. 

Three days after the admission, Masisi addressed the frustrated citizens over the fuel crisis, unveiling government interventions that restricted the amount of fuel to be purchased to P250 per car, prohibiting the sale of fuel using jerry cans except on Thursday, and reducing the fuel station’s operating hours from 24 hours, to only sell fuel between 6am and 8 pm. 

While there was scepticism that the interventions will not work, there was a glimmer of hope when queues started moving faster even though some fuel stations would run out of fuel before they could assist the waiting motorists. On late Sunday, it was becoming clear that there was some impact, with most motorists reporting they assisted in a shorter time than in the past two weeks. 

By Monday mid-morning, more reports came out that fuel was available in most fuelling points, but this time around without the long queues that had become a defining feature of the fuel situation. While there was relief from concerned citizens, they remain cautious about how long the temporary interventions will hold off the disrupted fuel supply chains. 

The severe supply constraints have been attributed to lowered fuel production at some South African refineries, made worse by the delay of fuel tankers due to Botswana’s strict testing policy for Covid19 at borders, with truck drivers spending more than three days awaiting test results before they can proceed in the country under escort of the police. 

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