By CHATULA KANGALI -
Fuel hauliers went on strike yesterday, raising the specter of a country-wide shortage as they tried to pressure Government for a larger share of the business to supply mining companies and the airports which they claim is now dominated by foreigners.
By end of business yesterday, not a tanker had uplifted from the Tazama-managed fuel terminal in Ndola where some 60 drivers were picketing the plant, with reports that no deliveries were being made to gas stations anywhere. Police were present to quell any disorderly conduct.
Only foreign truck drivers were seen waiting to offload at the terminal. A source said instructions had been delivered to members of the union who were already on the road to park their vehicles or return to their yards.
“It is unfair that all the business to supply fuel to the mines and the airport has been given to foreigners. None of the locals are doing so. Some of our members are not operating due to lack of business, so we want the Government to quickly act on this matter,” Zambia Association of Tanker Drivers and Allied Workers general secretary Humphrey Kapesha said.
Mr Kapesha said there was need for the Energy Regulation Board (ERB) to formulate a Statutory Instrument to restrict foreign tankers from drawing fuel from the source and supplying it to the local end user.
Mr Kapesha charged that the business given to foreign tankers deprived local tankers from getting local supply tenders, noting that Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) that were awarded to supply fuel to the Government were reneging on the commitment to give 20 per cent of the business to local truckers. He said that only Delta Energy had given the 20 per cent supply tender to the local tankers and that the rest of the contracted OMCs were awarding the tenders to foreign tankers.
“We want the minister through ERB to compel OMCs to use local tankers when importing fuel into the country, it is sad that foreign tankers had continued to supply fuel locally while local tanker are just sitting,” he said.
A similar strike by the union dried up gas stations up and down the country last year and government officials on the Copperbelt were engaged in desperate discussions to persuade the truckers to get back to work to avoid a similar scenario.
TAZAMA Managing Director Davison Thawete said that the protest by the tankers had already paralysed the distribution of fuel across the country.
“I urge the drivers to channel their complaints to their employers and OMCs who should approach the Government on the matter. This protest has already paralysed supply of fuel to different parts of the country,” he said.
Simataa Simataa of Oddy’s Oil in Lusaka said drivers from the company had been threatened with violence and having their trucks torched if they tried to enter Indeni by the pickets.
“Our drivers are not part of the union and what we do is supply our clients from Tazama but our drivers were threatened that the trucks would be set alight if they dared to go in and uplift. They don’t want anybody to work,” he said.
Copperbelt Minister Bowman Lusambo who rushed to the terminal to try to negotiate with the drivers, implored them to resume operations as their act was tantamount to sabotage.
Mr Lusambo said he would address the petition to President Edgar Lungu and that he would tomorrow call for a stakeholders meeting to discuss the issue. “I would like to ask you (drivers) to resume operations, because this action is going to affect the normal supply of fuel to the country. The Government is listening and ready to address your concerns,” Mr Lusambo said.
On claims by the strikers that foreign trucks were picking up fuel from Tazama to supply local clients, Mr Thawete said as far as he was aware, no foreign-registered fuel truck was allowed to uplift the commodity from Tazama depots.
Meanwhile, Times sources said the truckers’ grievances may in fact have been directed at two transporters suspected to be local fronts for firms that already have huge contracts to import fuel into the country.
“It may well be true that these two companies are the local branches of international companies but you may find that they are locally registered and are therefore entitled to participate in local business like supplying the mines and the airports,” said a source.
Another explained that he believed that the truckers were also frustrated by the fact that local transporters have very little market share of the fuel import business while it seemed that foreign-owned firms could operate on both fronts, using different names.
Last month the government announced that it had put back to March the implementation of petroleum sector reforms that would have legislated for a bigger share of the business for transporters and OMCs.