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SONARA Halts Production amid Fuel Price Hike Concerns 

By Kejang Henry Atembeh

( — The National Trade Union of Hydrocarbons Transporters of Cameroon has dismissed rumours of a looming fuel shortage across the country following a temporal production stoppage by the National Oil Refinery for maintenance purposes.

The union leader, Haman Abdoulaye told Cameroon Postline at the weekend from his Douala-based office that the rumors were unjustifiable.  He nonetheless indicated that the operations halt at SONARA date back six months, but that it was a routine measure aimed at ensuring durability of the refinery installations.

SONARA insiders electing anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the company say the refinery has gone for several months without getting routine government subventions.  The subsidies amount to circa 217 billion FCFA monthly. They have been frozen since June 2011.

SONARA imports 52 percent of its heavy fuel supplies from Nigeria, among others. In other words, the Cameroon government subsidies freeze implies that it has been unable to import the raw material. Meantime, experts note that the government has curiously maintained sealed lips over the SONARA production squeeze.

The attitude has considerably fuelled rumors especially in the Anglophone part of the country, that the UN may have ordered its shutdown to appease SCNC militants grumbling that SONARA proceeds do not benefit the South West region.

But Haman Abdoulaye insisted there is nothing to fear for the time being.  He said austerity measures have been taken well in advance to ensure uninterrupted supplies throughout the national territory.  Importers including TRADEX, Neptune and TOTAL have been designated by the authorities to ensure hitch-free availability of fuel nationwide, he indicated.

Nonetheless, with the fuel crisis currently hitting neighbouring Nigeria, experts argue that it is almost inevitable that a social crisis may erupt in Cameroon’s northern regions which usually depend on contraband fuel supplies from Nigeria.  Abdoulaye said the union of transporters is determined to double trips to the three northern regions including the Far North, North and Adamawa regions.

In early December 2011, the hydrocarbons price stabilization fund, CSPH, announced the government will maintain fuel subventions to keep down prices.  But as it stands, experts say hikes appear inevitable.  Nigeria’s decision to close its borders with Cameroon over the Boko Haram menace has triggered complaints from cross-border fuel hawkers, and their customers in northern Cameroon.

Separate sources indicate that Cameroon normally maintains a 70 percent reserve as a buffer for crisis periods.  The former general manager of the Cameroon Petroleum Deposits, Jean Baptiste Nguini Effa is in pre-trial detention in Douala, partly for having scraped the reserves dry during his reign.

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