MDF to intervene in fuel crisis, expert faults government on “heavy-handed’ approach

The Malawi Defence Force (MDF) has announced that from Friday, October 1, 2021, it will engage its personnel in the distribution of fuel in the country following the ongoing strike by fuel tanker drivers, which has resulted in the shortage of fuel in gas stations, especially in the major cities and towns.

However, a labour expert has faulted government on the use of the military in resolving the crisis, saying use of force is undemocratic and a serious attack on the drivers’ right to seek legitimate redress to their grievances.

Ministers of Infomation Gospel Kazako Pic (C) Daniel Namwini-Mana

“The heavy-handed approach by government would not solve the problems but it may be a precursor of more troubles to come. For how long will the military be engaged? The best thing the government could have done was to explore all possible negotiation avenues and reach a win-win agreement based on labour relation norms,” he said, preferring anonymity.

According to a press release issued on Thursday, September 30, 2021 and signed by the MDF Acting Public Information Officer Major Emmanuel Kelvin Mlelemba, armed military escort will be provided to fuel tankers from the country’s borders to the National Oil Company of Malawi (NOCMA) depots, and distribution from the depots to commercial gas stations will be done by military drivers.

The MDF appeals to the members of the general public to avoid interfering with the operation “as it is in line with one of its constitutional roles of providing technical expertise and resources to assist the civilian authorities in the maintenance of essential services in times of emergency in the country”.

“The Malawi Defence Force will carry on with the exercise until the situation normalizes,” concludes the press release made available to Nyasa Times.

Fuel tanker drivers under the umbrella of Transporters Association of Malawi and Fuel Transporters Association of Malawi have been on strike since Wednesday, September 30, 2021 demanding better working conditions. The strike has caused fuel scarcity and disruptions to businesses.

Minister of Information Gospel Kazako urged the drivers to call off the strike, accusing some people of attempting to “sabotage” the government of President Lazarus Chakwera.

Addressing a press conference in the Capital, Lilongwe on Thursday, Kazako said what is most worrying is that some of the drivers are engaged in violence against other drivers, which he said was criminal and warned that the law would take its course.

Spot checks by Nyasa Times in Blantyre and Lilongwe established that most of the service stations were ‘dry’ on Thursday and that commuters paid more for public transport.

The last time Malawi faced a serious fuel crisis was during the government of the late President Bingu wa Mutharika between in 2011. Malawians spent days on end on fuel queues because the country could not import enough fuel owing to a deteriorating economic and governance environment. The country did not have enough foreign exchange and donors had fled the country due to leadership arrogance.

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