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Cameroon to Hike Fuel Prices Next Month 

* Transport unions threaten strike action

By Muto Mulema & Joe Ngwenki

It will be impossible for the price of petroleum products to stay at the current level from January 2012, a senior official at the public agency for the price stabilisation of petroleum products, CSPH, has warned.

"2008 uprising: Fuel price hikes could ignite riots, it is feared"

The revelation made by Boniface Ze, director of technical affairs at CSPH comes to confirm earlier fears of fuel price hikes raised by the Finance minister at a meeting with transport operators in November this year. Speaking to the press this week at the CSPH exhibition stand at the ongoing business fair dubbed Promote 2011 in Yaounde, Boniface Ze announced that the state will not be able to continue subsidising fuel prices anymore.

“In 2011 alone, government spent more than 300 billion FCFA to enable Cameroonians purchase petroleum products,” Ze told journalists. “Between 2008 and 2011 the gross amount spent by government on petroleum price subsidies is about 700 billion FCFA,” he said.

From 2012, Ze disclosed, government will rather invest public funds to overhaul obsolete technical infrastructure at the National Oil Refinery, SONARA, as well as inject more money into the education and urban transport sectors. “Such huge sums spent to keep fuel prices low are enough to construct the Douala-Yaounde road,” Ze explained.

According to figures made available at the CSPH exhibition stand, government has been spending 337 FCFA to subsidize the price of every litre of high grade fuel (super) and 238 FCFA to subsidize lower grade fuel (diesel) since 2008 when Cameroonians took to the streets in protest of high living costs. Should government withdraw the subsidies, a litre of fuel will sell at close to 800 FCFA.

Transport operators raise hell

Following this development, taxi drivers and motorbike riders belonging to the Trade Union of Land Transport Employees, SYNESTER, have reaffirmed an earlier commitment to engage a strike action as soon as fuel prices escalate at filling stations.

A couple of drivers who belong to various transport unions in Yaounde hinted of their readiness to join the protest movement as soon as union leaders issue the call. “I am a driver and I also feel the pinch. I don’t see why I will boycott the call,” Mefire, one of the drivers said boldly. “This government is pushing things too far. We have had enough of this,” Mballa, another taxi driver, told Cameroon Postline.

In November this year, leaders of SYNESTER issued a fiery strike warning following comments made by Finance minister Essimi Menye calling on road users to get ready for a possible increase in fuel prices. “We, taxi drivers and motorbike riders will not accept any fuel price hike, be it by a dime,” the communique alerted. “We will engage a strike movement the very day that happens.”

The February 2008 riots that led to the deaths of over 100 persons were sparked by a similar strike call from transport unions due to rising fuel prices. Government has hesitated so far to raise fuel prices for fear of a popular resistance, akin to the February 2008 uprising, we learnt. That is why regime officials have been assigned to methodically prepare the public psychologically while at the same weighing any possible risks ahead of the price hikes, a source at the Finance ministry disclosed.

The imminent price hikes come at a time when rumours are rife of a possible devaluation of the CFA franc due to the current financial crisis in France, whose treasury is sole guarantor of the currency in former colonies.

Observers have expressed worries that fuel price hikes, coupled with fears of another CFA franc devaluation, could stoke the flames of widespread economic discontent and ignite an uprising similar to that in 2008.

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