WASHINGTON - Sierra Leone’s government is defending a price hike on petroleum products in the country. The government announced last week that it is ending the subsidy of petroleum products, raising the price of a gallon of gasoline, kerosene, diesel and fuel oil.
Under the new measures, pump price for a gallon of gasoline and diesel is up from about 67 cents to about $1.68. Fuel oil is up from about 56 cents to about 90 cents a liter.
Abdulai Bayraytay, spokesman for Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, says removing the fuel subsidy was necessary to address the loss of revenue caused by the Ebola crisis which affected the country’s tourism industry, and the plummeting price of iron ore.
Bayraytay said when the APC government came into power in 2007 its priority was improve the economy to attract direct foreign investment and in turn create employment.
“Thus, we embarked on massive infrastructural development across the country. That, of course created jobs and employment. Thus, the economy was booming. So, during that period, we didn’t feel it was necessary to remove fuel subsidy. But as I indicated, because of the plummeting of the prices of iron ore in the international market, revenue was lost. And also, the Ebola of course to the loss of revenue was lost,” Bayraytay said.
He said in order to reverse the economic downturn, the government worked with its international partners like the World Bank and the IMF to reduce expenditure.
Last month, the government announced a series of measures to improve revenue generation, including the suspension of all overseas travel for public officials except for essential and statutory travels.
The government also put on hold all new domestically financed capital projects and suppliers contracts. It also stopped new procurement of government vehicles until further notice
The opposition accuses the government of trying to cover up 9 years of mismanagement of the economy, particularly with presidential election looming in 2018.
Presidential hopeful and opposition leader – Alie Kabba -- in a statement condemned the price increases and its effects on the poor.
“The recent abrupt elimination of fuel subsidies by the APC government and its cascading killer effects, poses a very serious threat to the livelihood of ordinary citizens and dangerously toys with the very stability of the state. Once again we find ourselves firmly locked in the grips of another undoubtedly disastrous stretch of man-made catastrophes that our country neither desires nor in anyway deserves,” Kabba said.
The police have warned against “unauthorized demonstrations.” In a statement, the police said while they respect the rights of citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations, the public should also know that such rights are accompanied by the responsibilities.
“Therefore, we would expect those organizers of demonstrations to identify themselves and notify the inspector general of police in writing, indicating their assembly points, the routes they intend to take and where they intend to end,” the statement said.