By Amin Kef Sesay
When an acute fuel shortage hit Sierra Leone the past couple of weeks, it was only National Petroleum Sierra Leone (NP-SL) that kept the fire burning by not hoarding its stock and not increasing the pump price, but steadfastly ensured that it kept alive and buoyant the lives of the ordinary people and the country at large.
It could be recalled that for the past couple of weeks, Sierra Leone experienced acute fuel shortage which nearly disrupted the lives of ordinary people as well as create near havoc on the economy and businesses across the country.
Much to the surprise and satisfaction of many people, during this difficult period of fuel scarcity, it was only the National Petroleum Sierra Leone (NP-SL) which did not hoard but sold its meagre stock to consumers; thus living up to its name of being truly indigenous, customer-friendly and caring.
However, an in-depth investigation conducted by this medium led to the discovery that there are surmountable challenges that are really militating against the smooth operations of oil marketing companies in the country, which could be the main cause of the present ugly situation in which we find ourselves.
Against such an unfortunate backdrop, it will be prudent on the part of Government, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, to act very smartly in addressing some of the debilitating constraints oil marketing companies are facing to import and sell petroleum products; particularly that which has to do with accessing foreign currency with ease and at affordable prices.
It is really unfortunate that certain individuals during this fuel scarcity scare, out of ignorance unfairly and unduly have been blaming the National Petroleum Sierra Leone for the quagmire. This is very unfortunate. NP-SL, just like other oil marketing companies in the country, is going through real challenges militating against its smooth operations. One of them has to do with timely access to foreign currency, specifically the Dollar, which it uses to purchase petroleum products. The company does exchange the Leones they derive from sales in order to be in a position to import petroleum products, but of late with the depreciation of the Leone to the Dollar it is no mean feat to do so.
Just in the recent past, the Parliamentary Committee on Trade summoned the Management of National Petroleum Sierra Leone Limited to explain about the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility and other activities. It was at that meeting that the Management of NP laid bare the huge debt, running into millions of Leones, which the Government of Sierra Leone owes the company and pleaded for the intervention of Parliamentarians to help remedy the impasse.
When this medium went out to find out whether indeed fuel is available but hoarded, we discovered that there is not much in the offing for sales to the public and no attempts were revealed of any form of hoarding. The plain fact is that fuel is not available in the required quantity, simply because the hands of the oil marketing companies are tied to import petroleum products with ease.
There has always been the misconception by certain people that the National Petroleum Sierra Leone is owned by the Government of Sierra Leone. However, it will interest some people to know that the company is privately-owned by Sierra Leoneans, who years back, established it out of their end-of-service benefits and worked assiduously for it to become the towering business entity that is today renowned for marketing qualitative petroleum products.
The company, although it keeps reminding the Government of the outstanding debts, is in no way disillusioned to discontinue serving members of the public diligently, as it is a 100% indigenous company.
Regardless of that, the company has been steadfast with regards marketing qualitative petroleum products and from what was gathered, its shareholders and management have resolved to serve humanity and deal with outstanding issues professionally without the slightest objective of undermining the Government or stability.
While Sierra Leoneans are going through all this making the situation so confusing was when the regulatory institution, the Petroleum Regulatory Agency (PRA), of all oil marketing companies operating in the country issued a statement that there is no fuel shortage.
Currently, the NP-SL pumps are opened and the company is selling to members of the public. As an indigenous company, NP-SL is desirous of serving the nation.
To its credit, NP-SL has been rated 1st for Customer Care, and is held in high esteem for introducing both NP Gas and Smart Card, and is impressively rolling out its Corporate Social Responsibility and offering lots of goodies to its numerous consumers. In recognition of all the good things that the company is doing to foster development in the country, it emerged as the winner of the prestigious 2018 NEA Award as Best Indigenous Company of the year.
It must be reiterated that there is the utmost need to make the oil marketing companies very financially solvent in order to capacitate them to be in better steads to effectively engage in the purchasing and selling of petroleum products and prevent avoidable shortages in the future.
NP-SL, as an oil marketing company, from our findings, is not in any sense undermining the government; it is not anti-government as it has always maintained an apolitical stance, only focusing on its business ventures. It will therefore be a great disservice to the company if anyone were to accuse NP-SL of being politically motivated in its business dealings. This has never been the case and will never be the case, according to NP-SL management; especially when the country experiences fuel shortage.
As a matter of fact, this medium was made to understand that had it not been for NP-SL, the impact of the fuel shortage could have been worse, had the company behaved irresponsibly or in a manner to suggest that it loves money more than the people of Sierra Leone.
Thankfully, the erudite board members, management and staff of NP-SL kept to their pledge of serving the people of Sierra Leone in whatever circumstance.
Fuel is now available for sale to members of the public and the prices still remain the same.