January 30, 2020 / 6:01 PM / a month ago

Liberia running low on gasoline after reserves go missing

* Long queues form at petrol stations in Liberia

* Government blames error in accounting of supplies

By Lucinda Rouse

MONROVIA, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Lines to the petrol pump snaked across Liberia’s capital Monrovia on Thursday after it emerged that the West African country was unexpectedly down to its last few days’ worth of gasoline.

An error in the accounting of fuel supplies in state-run tanks left Liberia with 1.1 million gallons of fuel this week, a fraction of the 4.4 million that the government thought it had, Minister of Commerce and Industry, Wilson Tarpeh, told Reuters.

The mistake has echoes of a saga involving the suspected loss and then recovery of $100 million in cash destined for the central bank in 2017 and 2018, and has critics bristling at what they see as chaotic leadership under President George Weah.

It has also had an impact on Liberia’s economy, already suffering from high inflation and a depreciating Liberian dollar.

“I can’t take my kids to school, so they are just at home,” said Tim Krangar, a 29-year-old church worker who joined the queue at a fuel station in Monrovia’s Sinkor neighbourhood in the early hours, long before the line started moving.

“Last time ... the station was giving three gallons maximum,” Krangar said. “I came at four in the morning and I got gas at four in the evening.”

Tarpeh said the crisis, which began a few days ago, was caused by a discrepancy between importers’ inventory figures and the actual quantity of fuel in storage tanks managed by the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company. LPRC did not respond to requests for comment.

Tarpeh said this kind of mismatch was common and that it became a problem because of a disruption in the shipping schedule caused by a build-up of silt in the city’s port.

“As long as the resources are flowing, you don’t see the problem,” he said.

Emergency shipments are expected from overseas in the coming days, he said.

Meanwhile, people are being forced to adapt.

Over the past week, transport costs for fish-seller Felicia Nyeh, 30, have more than doubled. As a result, she sells two fish for 100 LRD ($0.51). A week ago she charged the same amount for three.

“The gas issue is affecting the business people,” she said. “It’s affecting everybody.” (Editing by Edward McAllister and Timothy Heritage)

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