Fri | Oct 20, 2017

Bad gas yes: but who fought for the JGRA?

Published:Sunday | January 3, 2016 | 12:00 AMDr Orville Taylor

It is no fun to be driving and your vehicle stops in the middle of the darkest part of the well obscured north-south highway. Nothing was amusing about the car 'bucking' like a ram goat or bull-cow, especially when a wise cracker suggests that the best way to reduce bucking is to disconnect the horn.

Worse it is, when the reason for the vehicular malfunction has nothing to do with the poor maintenance of the motor car or anything untoward on the part of the driver.

Moreover, I treat my car as she deserves to be treated, because I am big on looks, shape, performance and long rides. So I regularly change the oil, fill up the tank with 90 octane fuel and do my regular servicing. As must as possible, I stick to one source because I do not want any suspicious toluene injections (STIs) in my combustion chamber. Therefore, there must be reasonable certainty that I am getting consistent quality and if not, where it was that I picked up the nasty injection.

Yet, for all the precaution, the thick rubber hose still put nasty gas into the tank and l picked up the STI from an unknown source, and that makes me feel helpless. Citizens, have a right to get what they pay for and shouldn't have to be driving around with STI detectors.

Selling bad-gas to the public is a major betrayal of the public trust. Thankfully, officers from the police traffic division were there to help me out.

Some 17 petrol stations in St James, Kingston, Manchester, St Catherine, Clarendon and St Thomas, have been found to be selling contaminated fuel and now many of us motorists are running scared. It is a classic case of man-to-man and we don't know who to trust. Unlike food, which we can regulate to some extent, gas has to be bought from approved sources.

Standards in the petroleum trade are well known and despite the proliferation of gas stations nationally, it is not a free-for-all. It is a highly regulated industry, which even outlines standards over the dispensing of gas. For example, it can only be legally poured into containers that fit a particular set of criteria, defined under law. Selling petroleum from unapproved locations is also a crime.

Thus, petrol retailers have a major responsibility, because when tainted gas is sold, it is ultimately the consumer who suffers. Can you imagine a worse scenario, where marine gasoline is being compromised also by incompetence or corruption? There is no one to push a disabled craft to shore, even if it is still in the national waters between Old Harbour and the Pedro Banks.

True, the Minister of Mining Phillip Paulwell, acting on a report from the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), in which some 23 stations were surveyed and their supplies and facilities tested, acted swiftly and reportedly closed down the stations which were found to be in breach of the high standards.

 

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Indeed, it is commendable that the Major Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Task Force (MOCA) has been called in. If the name of the investigation agency is an indicator of the size of the probe, then there are big fish involved. However, in deference to the holy season, I resist any temptation to rename MOCA with an acronym which denotes the word 'fish'.

Following close on the heels of the action by the minister, Jamaica Labour Party spokesman on energy, Robert Montague has demanded that the suppliers of the adulterated product must be named, even as the government is being tight lipped. Initial information is that in the less-regulated free market of gasoline distribution to the gas stations, there are 'independent' providers of petroleum.

In another era, if gas was found to be substandard or compromised in quality, it would have been easily traceable and the great likelihood would have been that it was from the government's own company, PETROJAM. However, initial information is that PETROJAM has been excluded as the culprit.

I am uncertain as to what legal issues, lawyer Paulwell is worrying about, given that the truth is normally a solid defence in matters of reputation being ruined. After all, we know which gas stations were closed. Hopefully, his and the BSJ's pressing of their mute buttons on their remote controls has nothing to do with anything except a need to facilitate and not impede the work of MOCA. Perhaps, he is setting up a special Fuel, Organised Crime and Anti-corruption investigative team.

My sympathies are with the gas station operators, who are already under great pressure from their franchise owners. So to be selling bad gas, over which they have no control, puts them in a situation of double jeopardy.

Somebody dropped the ball and there are at least two. First of all, the supplier of the fuel must be held accountable, selling bad gas is not only irresponsible, and dishonest, but it is dangerous and of course criminal. But second, has the government via the ministry and the BJS given too free a hand to the myriad distributors? Does BJS have the requisite staff and resources to monitor the industry?

Within the Jamaica Gasoline Retailers Association (JGRA) there has long been outcry over the looseness in distribution of petroleum products. President of the association Leonard Green, purely coincidentally named in the colour of Montague's party, seems to be on the same page. Why should the operators, who buy from sources they have little control over, have to be outed and suffer business closure?

It is an untidy situation. The JGRA has complained about unfair trading practises among the non-PETCOM distribution companies, some of whom seem to have preferential relationships with some gas station operators/brands. All of this seems to fly in the face of fair trade.

In all of this, I smell a pungent odour and it is not the methane, but any fool knows that corruption, unfair trade and danger to the public interest all form a nasty threesome.

I hope MOCA finds the fish.