Cameroon transport workers to strike over fuel hikes

Wed Jul 2, 2014 1:59pm EDT

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* Government cut fuel subsidies but kept fares unchanged

* Higher fuel prices will cut into earnings, union says

* Over 100 killed in a 2008 taxi drivers' strike

By Tansa Musa

YAOUNDE, July 2 (Reuters) - Transport workers in Cameroon threatened on Wednesday to strike next week over a government decision to cut some fuel subsidies, raising the spectre of unrest as the country tries to please international donors.

The government announced on Monday that it was cancelling petrol, diesel and cooking gas subsidies, which would make the price of petrol rise by 14 percent and diesel by 15 percent.

But transport fares remain unchanged, leading unions representing drivers of buses, taxis and trucks to complain the higher operating costs would cut into their earnings.

"It is not normal that they should raise the price of petrol and not also the transport fares," said Pierre Nyemeck, head of the CGSTC, one of Cameroon's main transportation unions.

"If the government wants to prevent the strike, it should also increase transport fares," he said.

Cameroon has long produced both oil and cocoa, but analysts say a lack of reform and political stagnation under President Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982, have stymied economic growth and development.

The International Monetary Fund has for years called for subsidies, which cost around $600 million a year, to be cut.

But Cameroon has repeatedly delayed the move following a violent 2008 taxi strike over fuel prices that left over 100 dead and a failed bid to cut similar subsidies in neighbouring Nigeria in 2012.

Speaking to reporters late on Tuesday, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said the measures would benefit Cameroon's economy in the long-run.

"I call upon our people to accept these adjustments with responsibility, understanding and civic-mindedness and not to fall victim to instrumentalisation ... aiming to undermine the stability of our country," he said.

The government says fuel subsidies cost Cameroon 157 billion CFA francs ($326.78 million) in the first six months of this budget year alone.

The IMF said in May that Cameroon's overall fiscal deficit for 2014 was forecast at 5.5 percent of GDP, mainly due to fuel subsidies and the expansion of a public investment programme. ($1 = 480.4500 Central African Cfa francs) (Reporting by Tansa Musa; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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