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'Scarcity of cooking gas leads to corruption': Sudan Democracy First

January 14 - 2016 KHARTOUM
People lining up to buy an LPG cylinder in Khartoum (file photo)
People lining up to buy an LPG cylinder in Khartoum (file photo)

The severe shortage of cooking gas in many Sudanese cities since the beginning of October last year has created an environment of corruption extending from import operations to distributions, the Sudan Democracy First Group (SDFG) says in a report today.

In a press release in November, the Sudanese Ministry of Oil and Gas attributed the cooking gas crisis to the maintenance of El Jeili refinery that covers about 80 percent of local gas consumption. It is the largest maintenance operation in 15 years, and is intended to increase the production capacity of the refinery from 47 percent to 56 percent.

Despite the official explanations for the gas shortage, figures of the Sudanese Petroleum Corporation indicate a supply gap of 50 percent of the estimated annual consumption of 540,000 tons. Khartoum state consumes about 600 tons daily.

To bridge the gap in gas supply from the local refinery, the Ministry of Oil and Gas has to struggle to secure hard currency to import gas from abroad, the SDFG report reads.

The Minister of Petrol and Gas, Mohamed Zayed Awad, said in his speech to the parliament early December that his Ministry had provided adequate amounts of cooking gas to the Aman Gas and Nile Gas companies, implying that the problem is of distribution rather than supply.

Yet, according to the chairman of the Sudanese Gas Distribution Agents Union, the current crisis is not only caused by the refinery maintenance, but also by the unfair distribution of gas between the four gas companies, the delay in transporting gas from Port Sudan to the storage depots, and the use of gas in kilns, bakeries, and sweets' factories.

Prices

The gas prices are usually set by the Ministry of Finance, which set the price of a 12.5-kg cylinder in Khartoum state on SDG17 ($2.80) for the distributors and SDG25 ($4.10) for consumers. In El Gezira, White Nile, and El Gedaref distributors pay SDG19 and consumers SDG27.

As for North Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile, the price of a gas cylinder is SDG22 for distributors and SDG30 for consumers. The highest official cooking gas price in Sudan is in the other Darfur states, where a cylinder costs SDG27 for distributors and SDG35 for consumers.

The high demand of the gas is bound to lead to corrupt practices, the SDFG states. Distribution agents take advantage of the shortage and raise the price of a gas cylinder on the black market to SDG100-120 ($16-20).

The SDFG points to distributors in Wad Madani, who sell only few cylinders to consumers according to the formal prices of SDG35 ($6), while the major part of their quota is diverted to the black market.

To subvert this type of corruption, the government directed distributors to sell gas under the supervision of the Economic Security Department of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS). However, the distributors hired people to line up with the consumers and buy gas cylinders who would in turn be sold at the black market.

Another illicit practice that contributes to the shortage of gas is the preferential treatment of members of the regular forces and affiliates of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), the SDFG notes in its report. A source told a SDFG researcher that army officers would load five or more filled cylinders in their vehicles in complete disregard to the people queuing for hours.

The shortage of cooking gas has certainly exacerbated the hardship that the Sudanese people are enduring, the SDFG explains. An average household needs about SDG10 ($1.65) worth of charcoal to prepare a meal when cooking gas is not available.

Additionally, the increase in the gas prices immediately translated into price hikes of food at restaurants, bread, pastries, bricks, and many other products that use gas.

Recommendations

To address the frequent shortage of cooking gas and subvert illegal practices, the government is required to double the efforts for local exploration and production rather than rely on importation of the commodity, the report concludes. The SDFG calls the recent $70 million contract, signed with GTL, a Russian Company, a plausible step in that direction. According to the contract, the company will transform gas produced in the Neem gas field into liquid for ease of transportation.

In the short term, the government should import adequate amounts of gas to meet the rising increase in consumption and build high-capacity storage facilities. Moreover, the authority needs to regulate and tighten the rules of distribution and agency.

One of the measures that may help in addressing the problem of shortage and combat corruption in these areas, is to make it possible for consumer to own many gas cylinders from more than one company, the SDFG proposes.

Trade Unions, professional associations and civil societies may play a role in this regard by guaranteeing easy instalments for the cost. Such a scenario would help break the monopoly of the gas supply by one company. Drawing on successful experiences in neighbouring countries, the gas distribution networks in big cities and residential complexes, has helped tremendously in reducing the cost of gas and the elimination of middle agents.

Sudan Transparency Initiative

The SDFG was formed as an umbrella group of leading Sudanese independent and democratic civil society and media actors to serve as a think tank and venue for indigenous research, analysis and advocacy on human rights, development, peace and democratic transformation in Sudan.

It launched its Sudan Transparency Initiative in March 2015 with the series Petty Corruption Stories from Sudan, to “highlight the scope and magnitude of the petty corruption experienced by Sudanese people in day-to-day exchanges with the government, private, and civil sectors”.


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