Crisis looms as truck owners halt services

Dar es Salaam, home to about 5 million people, is bracing for an acute fuel shortage that could paralyse transport in the country’s commercial hub, The Citizen has learnt.

Dar es Salaam has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Sh7.5 trillion ($4.5 billion) and contributes over 70 per cent of monthly government revenue.

The city is likely to be the biggest casualty of the decision by members of the Tanzania Truck Owners Association (Tatoa) to go on strike from today in protest at the newly introduced penalty on excess axle weight.

Adverse effects of the strike will also be felt in upcountry regions, with analysts warning of acute shortages of fuel and other goods, adding that this would lead to spiralling prices.

Two million litres of petrol, 3.9 million litres of diesel, 550,000 litres of jet fuel and 190,000 litres of kerosene are used in Tanzania daily.

Dar es Salaam and the rest of the country virtually ground to a halt in 2011 when fuel dealers went on strike to protest the government’s decision to regulate pump prices.

Motorists queued in long lines well past midnight daily for about one week while those relying on public transport were forced to walk up to 30 kilometres after daladala operators grounded their vehicles for lack of fuel.

In a country where about 90 per cent of goods are transported by road following the collapse of railway services a decade ago, the strike will have serious repercussions on the economy if it will not be averted.

Tatoa members operate about 15,000 trucks, which transport goods between Dar es Salaam and other regions as well and between the country and its neighbours.

According to data from Tatoa, on average, between 100,000 and 150,000 tonnes of goods are transported daily within and outside Dar es Salaam.

Truck operators have been on a go-slow since Monday protesting Work minister John Magufuli’s directive that truck crews be penalised for weights that are at least five per cent above axle limits, contrary to the Road Traffic (Maximum Weight of Trucks) Regulations of 2006.

Truck owners said yesterday that Dr Magufuli scrapped a clause of the regulations without consulting transporters and following proper procedures. They urged the Attorney General to give a correct interpretation of the regulations.

As the standoff remained unresolved yesterday, stakeholders warned of dire consequences which would result in higher commodity prices for consumers.

More than 600 containers were piled up yesterday and a queue of ships had built up in the outer anchorage of Dar es Salaam port.

“We know that the more this stalemate continues, the more it hurts our business and our economy. We are told some ships have started to bypass our port. We love this country, for it is our only home, but we need a win-win situation,” said Mr Faisal Edha, a Tatoa member and owner of Overland Logistics.

University of Dar es Salaam lecturer Haji Semboja said Tanzania would rue neglecting the railways transport.

“When other countries are improving their railway systems because it is cheaper to transport goods by rail, Tanzania is fighting transporters by increasing penalties on axle load limits,” he said.

Dr Semboja noted that in the last five years earnings from penalties for overloading had increased by 65 per cent, adding that these fines were not the most effective way to curb overloading.

“I urge the government to go back to the table and negotiate…they need to conduct a regulatory impact assessment before imposing any additional penalties,” he said.

Tatoa members insisted yesterday that Dr Magufuli went overboard by revoking the allowance on cargo and passenger vehicles.

“This is unfair. The minister didn’t consult us in his decisions, he just wrote on us imposing the new regulations a day after he made such decision. 

"We have presented our grievances to Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, and now we are waiting for the official statement, until then our trucks will not operate to avoid discontents in weighbridges,” said Mr Edha.

Dr Magufuli on Monday reiterated the government stand saying they are going to uphold the maximum gross vehicle weight of 56 tonnes, and saying exceeding weights have been damaging the highways, citing Mlandizi to Chalinze as an example.

He also challenged those opposing his decisions to go to court instead.

“We are not going to rush to court, we know our government will heed our cry, but the most important thing is, if this excess was found to be damaging, a proper procedure involving the Parliament could have been done and not the minister alone,” said Mr Davis Mosha, a member of Tatoa.
Source: The Citizen, reported from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
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