Although he refused to call the names of two of his fellow colleagues in the petroleum import business, Musa Bility, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SRIMEX Petroleum, yesterday disclosed on the Truth Breakfast Show (TBS) that two of the petroleum importers in the country are responsible for the acute shortage of gasoline that has rendered the economy almost collapsed.
One may ask why now, particularly at a time when there is a hope of solution to the gasoline crisis, that Mr. Bility has selected to come out to the public with this information; considering that government failed to synchronize its information sharing process.
For almost a month, Liberia went acutely short of gasoline, a petroleum product that is widely used by many vehicle users. The country experienced an extreme dysfunctional system at all levels and increased hardship on the already impoverished population.
“I am here because I thought that it has become necessary for me to make some clarifications surrounding the gas shortage in the country. APM Terminals is right about their position in which they said that no vessel was rescheduled to berth as claimed by the government through the National Port Authority (NPA). Two importers, who were responsible to import petroleum products in December, are responsible for this crisis,” Bility said.
Musa Bility is also the founder of Renaissance Communications, which comprises Real TV and Truth FM, the station on which his interview was broadcast.
He said the Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation (LPRC) only has 70,000 metric ton capacity for gasoline and, as such when there is shortage and those responsible to import in a given month fail to import, there is always crisis.
“The two importers expected to have supplied the country, failed to do so. And the reason why only two importers are allowed to bring in petroleum products in a month is because there is not enough space at the LPRC to store the products,” he said.
He added that individual importers have their own tanks to safe-keep their petroleum products but those tanks do not have enough capacity; thereby leading a number of them to reserve their imports in the LPRC’s tanks.
“LPRC, in December of 2019, gave the chance to two of their most reliable suppliers. The importers were expected to have brought in country the gasoline product but, for whatever reason, they did not. This is the actual cause of the problem rather than the falsehood stating that 4 million gallons of gas was stolen and sold,” he said.
According to Bility, other importers, including Aminata and Sons, PetroTrade, among several others were told by the LPRC’s management to wait. He noted that business has been like that for the last 12 years and it has not changed.
“When a vessel comes to the Freeport and there is no space to berth, it cost them fifteen to twenty five thousand United States Dollars. This is why they come one at a time or very few in number.
“Considering this, the two importers had some challenges with their suppliers from Europe and other parts of the world and so they informed the LPRC that they could have run into January with the delivery of the gasoline,” Bility claimed.
He said “When early January came and passed, LPRC got concerned. Knowing that the two companies have lost their right to import at that time, LPRC had to engage others. And truly, for the month of January, there was no gasoline in West Africa. Almost all of the stations in the nearby countries were empty. The only blessing was that TOTAL had received its consignment of gasoline supply. They scheduled a shipment that had nothing to do with LPRC schedule. That is what bless us.”
He told his interviewers that LPRC’s storage tanks are old, since they were built since 1947 and that the tanks have leakage problems as well as massive evaporation experience.
“When there is crisis, let’s work on the crisis instead of politicizing it. Journalists and all others who rely on Facebook posts to run with stories about a particular incident are not helping this country,” Bility said, adding that a former reporter at his radio station (Truth FM) that now works at a different media entity lied on the radio that he (Musa Bility) stole 1 million gallons of the allegedly missing 4 million gallons of gasoline.
He recommended that there is a need for government to invest in large quantity of petroleum reservation system in order to avoid a repeat of the current crisis, making shortage of gasoline in the country a thing of the past.
“What I also know is that the government is constructing a 70,000 metric ton storage capacity for petroleum products. It is my hope that at least a twenty or thirty thousand metric ton capacity is set aside for the reserve,” Bility said.
Bility is an insider in the oil and gas sector and has been in business since the early 90s, particularly during the era of learned political science professor, Amos C. Sawyer. Sawyer was at the time chairman of the national transitional government of Liberia.
Meanwhile, during the live interview, former managing director of the Liberia Petroleum and Refinery Company (LPRC), now Bomi County District #1 Representative Edwin Melvin Snowe, phoned in and said it is sad that Liberia had to go through acute gasoline shortage of gasoline.
“Gasoline and rice are security commodities. Being without them is grave and it is no good sign for the country,” Rep. Snowe said.
He agreed with Bility on a number of things except that government should make no mistake to invest in any huge reserve of petroleum products.
“It will cost not less than 14 million United States Dollars. And one thing to note here is that we don’t have the capacity because there will always be evaporation and other challenges that cause the loss of petroleum,” he said.
He said during his tenure at the helm of LPRC, Snowe said there were two importers who also lied on the importation of gasoline.
“They failed to get the petroleum and later claimed that the ship on which their consignments were, were diverted to Conakry, Guinea. We had to promptly call for intervention which saved the country from going through what we realized these few days around here,” he said.
He said theft, provisional lifting and evaporation are always responsible for the massive loss of gasoline and other petroleum products at LPRC.
He said there is an age old syndicate at the LPRC which is always stealing petroleum products.
Musa Sheriff, president of Petroleum Distributors of Liberia (PDL) agreed with much of what Bility said and assured that he will work with his association in whatever way to help government succeed in curtailing any shortage of petroleum products.
Sheriff admonished his fellow Liberians to desist from politicizing every aspect of life, even if it concerns the livelihood of people.