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26.11.2008 Editorial

Commercial drivers are not above the law


A little over three weeks ago we expressed our opinion, which was very critical of the government and the National Petroleum Authority (NPA). We argued at the time that it was wrong for the NPA to refuse to reduce the ex-pump prices of petroleum products in the country, despite the fact that prices of the commodity had fallen, from as high as $147 per barrel to a little over $80 per barrel.

The NPA also came out to argue that since May this year, when they reviewed upwards the ex-pump price of petrol, no further adjustment has been made though the commodity continued to rise to $147 on the world market. As a result of the decision not to increase the price, the Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) and Tema Oil Refinery incurred a debt of $168 million.

To the NPA, though the price of crude oil had started falling, there was the need to recoup part of this debt before any downward adjustment was made to the ex-pump price.

The Chronicle however argued that the explanation being given by the NPA, did not only look like turbid but turgid, because there was a law that mandated the authority to have a monthly review of the ex-pump price of petroleum commodities.

We further argued at the time, that nobody asked the NPA to stick to the old price, even though the commodity was going high on the world market, and demanded that the price must be reduced immediately.

On the first of November this year, the NPA came out with its first review in several months, by cumulatively reducing the ex-pump price by 10%. On November 16, the same month, the figure was further reduced between 3 and 5%. With a barrel of crude oil now hovering around $50, as of yesterday on the international market, the expectation was that the ex-pump price of petroleum products would be further reduced.

Unfortunately, private commercial drivers, who control almost 95% of the transport industry, have refused to reduce their fares, even though they have been directed, per advertisement, to reduce their prices to reflect the reduction by the NPA.

This means that the ordinary man has not benefited from the reduction, because the prices for the haulage of foodstuffs from the rural areas to the towns and cities have remained the same, in addition to the trotro and long distance fares.

Despite this clear infringement upon the law by the drivers, government has not come out or taken any action to compel the drivers to respect the law. The National Labour Commission, for instance, has gone to court several times to compel workers to go back to work, if it feels that the industrial action they had taken had no backing by law.

The Chronicle thinks that government can also adopt this method, by going to court on behalf of the ordinary man, to compel the drivers to charge the relevant fares.

If, on the other hand, this cannot be done, we at The Chronicle suggest that there should not be a further reduction of the ex-pump price.

No matter how low the commodity would fall at the international market, the status quo must be maintained, so that the windfall that would accrue is channelled to other sectors of the economy to benefit the masses.

Certainly, it is wrong for the government to sit down for these drivers and their owners, who are in the minority, to enrich themselves, whilst the ordinary man, whose taxes are used to import the crude oil, wallow in abject poverty.

The action of the drivers, can best be described as lawless, and we appeal to the government to have a critical look at the suggestions we have made here, in the interest of the country.

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