Gaborone - Botswana has been plunged into a fuel crisis as petroleum importers face border clearance delays occasioned by regulations pertaining to new coronavirus control measures.
Many fuel stations across the country continue to run out of stocks, extending the shortages beyond the “two/three days” initially projected by government when the shortage was first felt early in the week.
Truck drivers say the wait at borders while COVID-19 tests are conducted is behind the border bottleneck that has triggered the shortages.
The Secretary for Mineral Resources, Green Technology and Energy Security, Mmetla Masire, said the government had authorised the release into the market of strategic petroleum stocks to ease the pressure.
“Due to panic buying, some filling stations daily demand increased threefold. Currently, a number of fuel trucks and train wagons continue to arrive into the country through Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique but they have to observe COVID-19 protocols, which is necessary,” said Masire.
He added, “The public is therefore urged not to panic and to avoid stockpiling fuel as this results in a supply/demand mismatch. Purchasing of fuel using containers will not be allowed until the situation normalises.”
Another cause of the shortage, according to state-run Botswana Oil, when South Africa entered lockdown, refineries started rationing fuel supplies to Botswana.
Botswana Oil chief operations officer Mosetlho Kenamile said the government had given them the green light to import from Mozambique and Namibia to augment the restricted supplies from South Africa.
However, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 said virus control regulations could not be blamed for the fuel shortages.
Task Force co-ordinator Dr Kereng Masupu said their investigations showed that delays in facilitating movement of essential service transporters was because of system challenges by clearing agents and not because of COVID-19 testing.
“In the event that delays in COVID-19 testing are anticipated, truck drivers are allowed to enter the country to deliver essential goods such as fuel under police escort,” said Dr Masupu.
He reiterated that COVID-19 testing at border points was an important public health protection measure that had “assisted in identifying more than 80 percent of the cases diagnosed in Botswana so far”