Development Features

Service stations in rural areas needed

lack of service (filling) stations, especially in rural areas is unacceptable after 50 years of independence. The gloomy situation deprives the populace of a conduit towards easing the cost of doing business and also mobility.
Undoubtedly, setting up a filling station for petroleum products is indeed a costly venture, and establishing such facilities in every district would require a lot of money.
With only 273 filling stations against the swelling numbers of motor vehicles, the situation needs to be addressed.
In recognition of the strategic importance of petroleum supplies to the county’s rural areas and increasing public concern over the limited number of filling stations, the Energy Regulatory Board (ERB) has formally announced intentions by a local firm U-Fuel Zambia Limited’s plans to undertake a portable filling station pilot project in Chisamba in Central Province.
The investor should be commended for the brilliant and timely gesture that is aimed at easing the burden of the rural populace, who spend extra monies to go and buy petroleum products such as petrol, diesel or kerosene from other areas.
For those who own motor vehicles in areas where there are no such facilities, it becomes costly for them to fetch the commodity. For instance, a civil servant who owns a motor vehicle in Chiengi has to travel to Mansa (337.8km) or Kawambwa (175km).
Rural petrol supplies in Zambia have been recognised to be of strategic economic and social importance, especially that there are 103 districts that all need to develop in line with Government’s Vision 2030 of becoming a prosperous middle-income nation.
It should be noted that this is not just Government’s problem, but a corporate governance issue which basically involves balancing the interests of the many stakeholders that include shareholders, management, customers, suppliers, financiers, Government and the community.
Government cannot single-handedly resolve all the challenges that border on socio-economic development for the 13 million-plus Zambians.
The private sector also needs to come on board in finding a viable solution as the country journeys on the economic path of development.
I was prompted to dwell on this topical and important issue after reading stories from rural parts of the country and the subsequent revelation by the ERB that it is yet to set standards for filling stations which are not just aimed at financing cheaper ways of supplying fuel in the rural areas but will go a long way to contribute to economic growth.
The most recent article dealt with the prevailing situation in Chiengi and Shibuyunji, which was re-aligned to Lusaka Province despite being an offshoot of Mumbwa district. The nearest filling station is, situated about 21km from the district. Namwala has never had a filling station since independence.
How do tourists get to tourist attractions? How do our hard-working farmers get their produce to the market? How do we motivate civil servants in rural set-ups?  These questions can be best answered by collaboration by all stakeholders for the betterment of mother Zambia.
The other intervention that ERB has taken is to come up with incentives that encourage oil marketing companies (OMCs) to invest in rural areas by setting lower standards and also the pricing guidelines.
The decision by the regulator that for every ten filling stations opened in urban areas, the 11th one be in a rural area is a positive step to ensure that more service stations spread across the country to meet consumer demand.
Like the financial sector has made strides to go to rural areas to stimulate economic activities, similarly, OMCs should seriously consider opening up service stations to serve customers in the face of the growing populations as well as motorists passing through the districts.
It is retrogressive for a country that has maintained strong growth with gross domestic product of six percent not to have enough service stations in rural areas. Zambia is also among the 10 fastest growing economies in the world.
Our humble appeal to the business community in 2015 and beyond is that they should go to rural areas if the country has to develop economically.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail business editor and Institute of Directors of Zambia (IoDZ) membership and publicity committee member.

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