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Bad gas BACKLASH - Energy minister warns of severe sanctions for 'bad gas' culprits

Published:Tuesday | December 29, 2015 | 12:00 AMNeville Graham
A Gas pump attendant filling up at tank at a gas station in Cross Roads St Andrew.

Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell is moving to impose criminal sanctions on those who play a part in the ongoing bad gas saga. He says he is giving fair warning ahead of the release of a bad gas report that is naming names and outlining nefarious operations. Paulwell says his ministry will pay particular attention to those who are bypassing formal channels.

"We're going to have to impose criminal sanctions and severe pecuniary sanctions for people who are involved in illegal imports," Paulwell said.

The Gleaner is in possession of significant portions of the preliminary report to be made public on Tuesday (today). He repeatedly declined to comment specifically on the contents of the report, but said there is a flurry of meetings ahead of the official release.

"Minister Robinson is meeting today (Monday) with all the internal stakeholders. I am meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) with everybody including the external stakeholders, and we intend to have a very definitive position, especially going forward, on what the findings are to date," was all Paulwell would divulge.

The report details several outlets that are suspected to be involved in selling contaminated fuel. The service stations involved are located in St Thomas, Kingston, St Catherine, Clarendon and St. Ann. Pressed about the locations Paulwell again declined to comment, saying that based on legal advice, certain protocols will have to be observed.

"The people will have to be communicated with first. We will have to give them an opportunity to respond, and thereafter, we will be in the clearance to go," Paulwell said.

The report highlights deficiencies in the testing of gasolene in the petroleum trade. An earlier Gleaner report cited the fact that the Bureau of Standards is ill-equipped to police the industry, and that a lot of the testing is left to Petrojam. The report says there may be a conflict of interests in this regard.

"Petrojam is the only institution in Jamaica that can conduct fuel quality checks and this position can place it a compromising one," the report cites.

It also points to the uselessness of some agencies including the National Environmental Planning Agency (NEPA). "Regulatory bodies are practically ineffective in carrying out their mandates in policing the industry," the report says.

The report names at least one major marketing company as being involved in the mixing of low-grade fuel with legitimate imported fuel. The mixing is said to be done at so-called mixing stations, especially garages where petroleum tankers are parked. These mixing stations are located in St Catherine, Kingston, St James and St Thomas. Paulwell still declined to comment on this aspect of the report, but the energy minister is lamenting the lack of real sanctions for offenders. He is vowing to change this.

"We are meeting to look at the penalties because under the present laws, the penalties are too puny, and we have to start locking up people who are engaged in this and to impose hefty fines, so that's a part of the discussion we're going to have with the stakeholders," Paulwell said.

The report details the ease with which "unsavoury characters (can) get into the petroleum retail trade", and that as such, the same negative behavioural traits are carried over into the trade from a previous life of criminality. Paulwell says this has caught his attention, and he is acutely aware of the implications.

"We see this as a very serious problem for the country. It involves the possibility of very serious damage to very expensive assets. We are going to be treating it very seriously, and we are reviewing the laws that appertain now, and we are going to be rushing significant amendments to ensure that people who are engaged in this will be brought to justice," Paulwell warned.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com