Long queues, frustrated drivers and outraged commuters defined the second day of the strike by a section of fuel suppliers protesting the 16 percent Value Added Tax on petroleum products.
The strike has triggered a fuel shortage, which now threatens to grind critical services to a halt, as most petrol stations stayed dry while those with the product limited motorists to between Sh1,000 and Sh200 worth of oil.
The Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) made good it’s threat to cancel the licence of the Kenya Independent Petroleum Distributors Association (Kipeda), whose trucks had blocked major city fuel depots to prevent other suppliers from picking the product.
The ERC maintained that Kipeda Holdings Ltd’s operations will remain suspended until the strike is called off.
Petroleum Principal Secretary Andrew Kamau, who had unsuccessfully tried to intervene on Wednesday afternoon, said the government had started providing security for other trucks willing to pick product from the major depots to avert a crisis.
Kipeda officials are said to have shouted at the soft-spoken Principal Secretary demanding that the VAT on fuel be reversed before they allow any truck to pick fuel for distribution to the stations.
“The strike only made impact because they were threatening other drivers, which is very immature since even the President whom they are asking to sign the amendment on the bill to postpone the tax is not yet back in the country. Why are they preventing those who want to work?” an enraged Mr Kamau told the Nation by telephone.
He added: “Anyway, trucks have been loading on all major depots today and we expect the situation to normalise between Saturday and Monday.”
Kipeda, which supplies petroleum products to independent retailers, had mobilised its members to paralyse operations at the major depots, especially the one on Nanyuki road near the Kenya Pipeline Company headquarters, causing an acute shortage since Wednesday.
Nairobi, which has the highest number of vehicle traffic, was hit most, as vehicles stalled on the road and long queues formed at the few petrol stations that had fuel.
Diesel was available in most of the stations but petrol had run out in most of the stations by Wednesday morning.
Drivers used containers, including the usually prohibited plastic ones, to buy fuel for their stalled vehicles as the situation worsened from Tuesday.
Others pushed their stalled cars to the petrol stations only to be told there was no more fuel available.
Truckers who poke to the Nation on condition of anonymity for fear of intimidation by Kipeda, revealed they had security escort out of Nairobi’s Industrial area but were not sure about their security beyond the zones with fears of attack by the striking truckers still rife.
“We cannot be sure what will happen once we leave Industrial area because this conflict still persists. We are just risking because now we have to do business,” a petrol tanker driver with one of the major multinational brands told the Nation.
He added, wistfully: “Hopefully this standoff wind end because, for many of us, this business is out livelihood and we cannot afford not to work.”
The suppliers had staged demonstrations and blocked Nanyuki road, which is a protected area, as General Service Unit (GSU) officers were deployed to ensure operations were not interrupted.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, Inspector General of the Police Joseph Boinet and a high-powered security team later met the petroleum dealers in a bid to break the stalemate.
Motorists were enraged by the lack of fuel, whose price had soared after the 16 percent VAT, which MPs had tried to postpone by two years, took effect from September 1.
Consumer Federation of Kenya secretary-general Stephen Mutoro said the shortage was a double pain for motorists and commuters already facing tough times after the price rise last weekend.
“It is an insult to injury that the same over-taxed fuel is no longer available at filling stations. The long queues, as some stations ration fuel, is a reflection of a failed State and a major embarrassment to the family of Nations.
“It is during such moments when serious questions must be asked: Is the Government still in place? Why must we degenerate to such an unnecessary economic anarchy and chaos?” Mr Mutoro paused.
The consumer lobbyist called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to help break the stalemate by signing the Finance Bill 2018 into law and crack the whip on senior officers in his Government who bear the greatest responsibility for fuel crisis witnessed since Tuesday evening.
In January 2017, a similar shortage scenario played out after petroleum distributors protested implementation of a law prescribing fuel transit time limits persist.
There was an attempt to implement the Energy (Licensing of Petroleum Road Transportation Business) Regulations, 2013 which require oil tankers to operate between 6.30am and 6.30pm.
It lead to the early exit of then ERC Director General Joseph Ng’ang’a who proceeded on terminal leave eight months before his term ended.