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`Welcome to shortages, all ye who long for socialism`

4th November 2012
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Editorial Cartoon

There is a popular adage in English, or in the history of philosophy and wisdom in general: Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Leaning lessons of past failures means owning up to what happened and where the errors were located, such that there is a will in the psychic make of a country as a whole not to go down that road again.

Not all past historical periods are owned up sufficiently, such that at the end of an initial euphoric period of change, pressures begin to build up for this or that aspect of the previous era, and slowly it starts to emerge as a paradise.

The reason that happens isn’t because the previous era was indeed a paradise, but it was actually a paradise for a given class of people, or a stretch of classes from different perspectives, or material ties to that social environment.

At times this sentiment leads to a new crisis, and when that situation is overcome, only then can it be said that the original problem whose lessons weren’t learnt earlier have now been noticed, or sufficiently acknowledged.

That is why in looking at the country’s economic and political problems today, a welter of unlearned lessons and refusal to raise the issues haunts stability. Take the current shortages of petroleum products chiefly of petrol and diesel and we find an excellent example of a problem that was resolved nearly 20 years ago to the chagrin of beneficiaries of shortages and smuggling.

As the ruling party never owned up to the economic mess during Mwalimu’s socialist policies, import controls, price fixing, arbitrary regulations among them, most of these drawbacks are creeping back by exploiting popular feelings that petrol dealers are gaining plenty on the back of each of us. People tuned to believe that the government is trying to solve these problems will bear with any shortages.

As a matter of fact, the government isn’t solving any problems by raising a dubious scheme of importing oil products in bulk so as to get a discount on transportation; such a discount can only be obtained by transporting such goods along with others.

It is as if there is an importer who hires a ship and places only his cargo on board; if such cargo was bulky enough the cost per unit of shipment would be lessened. In that case, it is up to transporters –because they are competitive to offer such bulky transportation discounts. And petrol importers, aware of the price margin, to take up such offers; no ministerial help is needed.

In the final analysis, what is unknown to the public is that the proper activity going on, and this seems like it has the blessings of Minister for Energy and Minerals Prof. Sospeter Muhongo, is that the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) wants bit by bit to reclaim for itself all the oil importation business it lost during the reforms of the second phase presidency.

It doesn’t just seek to import and resell but it also wants to put up a refinery, now being used as a storage facility. Petrol dealers have already questioned why the facility should be used, instead of pumping directly from the Single Mooring Point at the harbour.

Whatever the government says about that, the point remains that it is the government’s regulatory interference in petroleum importation and sale that has caused the problem, and without that policy being ended, it shall only get from bad to worse.

With big oil businesses barred from importing petrol, and price at the pumping station remains under the control of EWURA another regulator the private oil firms in effect take up a new role as employees of the ministry: to sell oil on its behalf.

Not surprisingly, the shortages start because the private oil firms are in business to ensure for themselves a profit margin.

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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