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News Analysis: Gov’t insists on digital payment despite complaints over chaotic, long queues at gas stations in Addis Abeba

Fuel queue at Total gas station near CMC Michael in Addis Abeba on Thursday, 27 April (Photo: Addis Standard)

By Molla Mitiku @MollaAyenew

Addis Abeba – The Ethiopian Ministry of Transport and Logistics has insisted on its decision to fully digitalize gas transactions in the capital Addis Abeba, despite long queues causing traffic jams and chaos at several gas stations in the city.

Complaints are rising as drivers are forced to wait for hours to refill since the decision to go full digital was enforced on Monday, 24 April. Drivers who spoke to Addis Standard are mostly supportive of the move but are irked that the long queues and subsequent congestion near gas stations is consuming their working hours.

One driver who wishes not to be named said the digitalization should have been implemented gradually and drivers must be allowed to use both options until they master digital payment methods in order to avoid the current problems.

According to the Ministry of Transport and Logistics, the digitalization of gas transactions was introduced based on the decision made in December 2022 by the Council of Ministers.

Selman Mohammed, Fuel subsidy project coordinator at the Ministry, told Addis Standard that “digital gas payment has been enforced since July 2022 on more than 200 thousand transport vehicles that have become beneficiaries of the gov’t fuel subsidy program”.

After nine months of practice on the 200 thousand vehicles and by adding additional inputs, direction was put in place to go full digital in Addis Abeba following a trial period that started from February 2023 to help drivers accustom themselves with the payment systems, Selman added.

Over 80 thousand transactions accounting for over 156 million birr has been made since Monday, 24 April, Selman told Addis Standard on Thursday. 

He said the long queues at the gas stations are mainly caused due to customers’ failures to complete preparations needed to go digital within the trial period. Furthermore, shortage of manpower to properly provide the services at some gas stations have also contributed to the long queues he added.

He insisted despite instant decisions that are being made on the spot at some gas stations where there are long queues, the government has no intention to reverse the course and allow cash to be used alternatively.

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He said efforts are being made to introduce additional payment methods by involving private banks and other financial institutions.

According to Selman, the digitalization of the gas payment will help to control illegal activities including gas contrabands and other sabotages that have been disrupting oil transactions.  

Yehualashet Tamiru, a corporate business lawyer, told Addis Standard that there is no arising legal issue in enforcing digital-only transactions, arguing that the decision does not restrict either buying or selling gas with the birr, but only change the modality of payment to digital instead of cash.

According to the lawyer, the government’s decision to prohibit cash can be validated on the basis of the current shortage of cash in the market and on the account of tackling persistent illicit practices observed in gas transactions.

However, he criticized the monopolization of the digital payment systems by the state owned Ethio-telecom and Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and said the government must involve all financial institutions particularly the private sector. AS

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