By NOELA EBOB BISONG
South West governor, Bernard Okalia Bilai, on Friday, June 7, 2019, held an in-camera meeting with some key stakeholders and SONARA management, at the premises of the company, where it filtered out that a commission of inquiry has been created to probe into the situation and come out with results pertaining to the exact cause of SONARA’s worst-ever explosion. The commission was installed by the governor, and it is said to be headed by South West Attorney General (Procureur General) Emmanuel Mbia, with the Senior Divisional Officer for Fako, Engambe Emmanuel Ledoux and other key stakeholders as members.
This came after an Inter-ministerial mission to the National Refining Company on Thursday, June 6, 2019, during which SONARA workers as well as the Limbe population was reassured that government is leaving no stone unturned to address the tragedy, which befell the company following the Friday, May 31 explosion at the National Refining Company.
The objective of the mission was to visit the disaster site at SONARA and assess the damage incurred and to reaffirm government’s commitment to ensure that the workers as well as the population are not affected negatively by the incident.
The inter-ministerial delegation, headed by Minister of Water and Energy Gaston Eloundou Essomba, constituted of the Ministers of Environment Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development Hele Pierre, Mines Industry and Technological Development Gabriel Dodo Ndoke, Trade and Commerce Luc Magloire Mbarga Atangana, as well as the Delegate of National Security, Director of Cabinet Prime Minister’s Office Balungeli Confiance Ebune, Secretary of state for defence in charge of the National Gendarmerie Gallax Yves Etoga, and the Special Adviser at the Prime Minister’s office Bertha Ndoh who doubles as Board chair of SONARA.
After a visit to the disaster site, the team met with workers at the SONARA club where Minister Eloundou, on behalf of the delegation congratulated the workers for their intervention during the incident and assured them of government’s attention. He said he and his delegation was in SONARA following instructions of the Head of State President Biya through the Prime Minister Head of Government, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, to reassure the workers that SONARA will continue its operations, and that workers’ salaries shall in no way be tempered with.
He expressed words of comfort and encouragement to the entire SONARA staff and urged the need for calm to reign
“The Head of State says SONARA has not and will not shut down…SONARA workers will not be technically unemployed”, Minister Eloundou announced. His declaration was met with thunderous applause from the workers and other stakeholders present.
The Minister noted that the heart of SONARA’s production unit has been consumed by the fire, but was positive that other operations will continue, as the government puts in measures to rebuild the damaged structures which he said is urgent. He mentioned that the Head of State has equally instructed that the ongoing rehabilitation, extension and modernization programme goes on uninterrupted.
Two key things which Minister Eloundou equally outlined were; the need for the workers to put in their best during this difficult period, and the empowerment of SONARA’s technical unit to ensure maximum security. “This is necessary because, while investigations are ongoing to determine the exact cause of the explosion, it is a fact that the explosion emanated from the technical unit…there must be maximum security to ensure that this never happens again”, he said.
He again assured of the continuous supply of fuel across the country and the stability of fuel prices.
Preceding Minister Eloundou Essomba, the General Manager of SONARA, in his welcome address to the inter-ministerial delegation expressed gratitude to government for the constant concern towards SONARA and its entire staff. He presented a detailed report to the delegation on the effect of the explosion, where he said 4, out of the 13 production units have been totally damaged, while three others were partially touched. The GM mentioned units 10 (atmospheric distillation), 30, 40 and 70 which are totally damaged, and units 20, 50 and 100 which are damaged partially.
The staff representative, Eyoum Pamela after also narrating the incident to the inter-ministerial delegation said “SONARA workers left their families at home, rushed to SONARA in a marathon way, in order to preserve the only oil refinery in Cameroon”, as they got word of the explosion that fateful night.
The staff representative also stated that “We would like to sincerely thank the state, through the Minister of Water and Energy, the Board chair and the General Manager of SONARA, for the promise made to preserve SONARA workers’ jobs. This decision by the state is the first of its kind in the refining world. It goes a long way to reassure the workers, their families and millions of people depending on SONARA, about continuity of our refining activity”.
Nonetheless, in spite of the assurance given to the workers as well as their stated gratitude through their staff representative, the atmosphere and the look on the faces of some of them did tell a different story. Some who spoke to The SUN Newspaper shortly after the meeting with the inter-ministerial delegation said they appreciated government’s efforts in intervening in the situation, but remained pessimistic that there is no way SONARA is going to rebuild without some of their jobs touched “Things are not as easy and simple as they are trying to make us believe”, one stated with frustration. Though the workers had given rounds of applause throughout the speeches, yet their sorrow was visible, in sharp contrast to the ambiance and over-flowing joy which characterized the same club house during celebrations to mark the international Labour Day, barely five weeks ago on May 1.
During the second phase of the mission, the inter-ministerial delegation met with traditional authorities and other locals, where Minister Gaston Eloundou again stated the objective of the visit and said “All steps have been taken at the highest level of the state to ensure that SONARA continues to function and that the incident does not have a negative effect on the population.
The Mayor of Limbe II, Duncan Molindo who was called up during the ceremony to say a word, appreciated the government for its intervention to solve the situation.