MASERU – The Petroleum Fund has issued preliminary results for the sales volumes for the first quarter of the year, which show a slight increase from previous years despite fears from the unstable and soaring pump prices. The data, which shows comparison of the past for more than a decade from 2010 gives month-to-month figures of fuel usage and sales of illuminating paraffin, petrol and diesel prices, among others. For instance, the total volume of sales for the first three months this year reflect increases as compared to the past two years in 2021 and 2020.
The figures for January to March 2022 recorded at total of 19 748,63 much higher than 16 569,01 last year but lower than the 2020 figure of 23 558.37 for the same period (all figures in millions of Maloti). However, despite a lower figure in the first quarter of 2021, the annual total had improved significantly at the end of the year recording 274 367 756.50 against 259 039 635.00 in 2020. The highest during the 10-year period was recorded in 2019 at 279 258 590.00 followed by 271 860 119.00 and 260 747 906.00 for the years 2018 and 2017 respectively.
The results, though not conclusive at this stage and for the current year already indicating record figures for 2022, could affect government policy, especially on levies and duties as well as the import parity. The Petroleum Fund CEO, Thato Mohasoa, had recently told Public Eye that the Fund was engaging government through the energy ministry to propose a number of interventions that could be employed in cushioning local motorists from the rising pump prices. The Fund is yet to give feedback on the consultations.
There have also been concerns registered with the early winter knocking in the region and forecast to be one of the coldest in years as the prices of paraffin are also soaring due to the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine as well as the weakening local currency against major world currencies, especially the US dollar. Local economic analysts have said recent increases of fuel prices, coupled with increased shelf prices for food could put the country under a lot of inflationary pressure, especially with Lesotho’s economy very dependent on imports.
The Petroleum Fund announced new increased fuel prices last week to a recorded high ever and bringing more panic that more hikes could follow in the not-so-distant future. New prices as of May 6, increased both petrol 93 and 95 at 20 and 15 Lisente, respectively, while diesel went up 85 Lisente and paraffin by 90 Lisente. This brought the pump price of petrol to over M20.00 for the first time in the history of the country at 20.70 and 20.95 for petrol and 23.80 and 17.80 for diesel and paraffin.
Lesotho’s fuel prices have been among the cheapest in the region but these have seen intense pressure in recent times because of the weakening currency and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. The country’s long dream policy of investing in fuel reserves has been pending for decades now with the feasibilities probably having lost touch with the reality now, in terms of costs and environmental challenges and obligations.
Many local motorists have already resorted to limiting the use of their vehicles opting for public transport on some days of the week which has seen very long queues at the end of the working days on many taxi ranks. “I don’t know what is happening. This we only used to experience during month ends, but it is now almost every day,” said ’Mapolo, a regular commuter at the Khubetsoana taxi rank.
For taxi and mini-bus operators, the more commuters there are the greater the fuel costs as traffic lines are now slower which consumes more fuel as vehicle engines spend a longer time idling. “Even with the proposed new taxi fares, I don’t think we will break even. These are very tough times,” said Motseki, a taxi driver from the northern route. Other drivers have said they now experience more problems and time wasting as they have to visit the pump station every now and then.
“There is no way one can afford a full tank now. So you have to be very conscious not to run out of fuel on the way, otherwise the 250 or 300 Maloti you put into the tank will disappoint you,” said one driver. As for companies and fleet owners, the times call for very stringent measures and whether one likes it or not, there has to be a huge turn-around strategy in fleet management and usage of company cars.