March 6, 2020 / 2:43 PM / a month ago

Liberia suspends fuel importers' licences over gasoline shortages

MONROVIA, March 6 (Reuters) - Liberia suspended the licences of all fuel importers, including France’s Total, on Friday to conduct performance reviews after some of the companies overdrew from reserves in state-run facilities, leading to gasoline shortages.

Officials say importers who store their fuel in communal tanks had taken beyond their quotas, leaving the government to suddenly realize in January that it only had a quarter of the 4.4 million gallons of gasoline it thought it had.

For four weeks, long queues at pumps brought much of the country to a standstill, raising prices for transport and basic goods and stoking anger against authorities amid economic stagnation and high inflation.

The shortages have since been resolved, and the government says there is now enough fuel to last several months. But President George Weah’s office said in a statement he was suspending the importers’ licenses so authorities could verify that they are fit to operate.

Information Minister Eugene Nagbe told Reuters the suspension included Total, the largest importer, but said its review could be fast-tracked. The company stocks its reserves in privately-owned facilities.

Total was not immediately available for comment.

The presidency’s statement said importers who borrowed beyond their quotas would have 90 days to pay for what they took.

It also announced the sacking of the deputy managing director of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company, which operates the state’s reserve tanks, “for gross negligence and fraudulent activities”.

The official, Bobby Brown, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Editing by Aaron Ross and Toby Chopra)

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