Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Stiff penalties to extinguish illegal gas trade

Published:Sunday | November 6, 2016 | 11:24 AMRyon Jones
An illegal gas-filling plant on Jacques Road, St Andrew, that exploded, killing and injuring several persons.
ACP George Quallo
Andrew Wheatley - minister of science, energy and technology.
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The relevant authorities are promising to leave no stones unturned, as they move to put an end to the illegal gas trade. This has been an ongoing problem for quite a number of years, but has become even more relevant with the recent deaths of three persons following a massive explosion at an illegal gas-filling plant on Jacques Road in St Andrew. Several persons were also injured, and a number of properties destroyed. The Jamaica Fire Brigade has estimated damages at $38 million.

Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Glenmore Hinds, said for years they have been trying to put a dent in the illicit practise of persons operating informal gas distribution stations. It was estimated back in 2007 that there were more than 100 illegal gas distribution points in Kingston and St Andrew alone. And most of these illegal operations are believed to exist in residential areas, therefore placing lives and properties at even greater risk.

“We had this situation recently which resulted in loss of lives, loss of property and damages to property and so as soon as we have information that there are such other operators taking place then certainly we will launch an investigation and take it to its natural end,” ACP George Quallo told The Sunday Gleaner.

He stressed that the focus will not only be on illegal liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) refilling plants, but also illegitimate gasoline depots.

“All my divisional and area commanders are instructed to really check around to see if any of the two are operating in their space,” Quallo said. “So we will be looking out to see where this is happening and to take some proactive measures to treat with it.”

Deputy Commissioner of the Jamaica Fire Brigade, Raymond Spencer, said although facing serious resource constraints, they too will be doing everything possible to identify locations undertaking illegal and unsafe practises and shut them down.

“We are going to be going out there and I have already spoken to my area officers to do everything in their powers to identify these illegal sites and comb every avenue,” Spencer revealed. “The divisional heads of each parish are to ensure that he has full knowledge of what is happening in there and once we come up on them, we will move to ensure that we shut it down.”

He continued, “So we are taking a big interest in it and we are going to be more proactive to ensure that we don’t have a recurrence.”

In the meantime, president of the Jamaica Gasoline Retailers Association, Phillip Chung, believes that the problem should be cut off from the source; hence, he is calling for regulations to be put in place to stop the supply of petroleum on the black market.

“The gas must come from somewhere. It could be from the depots or from the gas stations, which are not receiving their products properly. And then there are the industrial sites. Who watches over all of this?” Chung reasoned.

“I am calling for regulations in a deregulated economy. Jamaica is too small and fragile for things to be running amuck like this without any level of control. In my opinion, if the transportation and handling of the product is done properly, then that should rule out illegal depots.”

Science, Energy and Technology Minister, Dr Andrew Wheatley, is assuring that regulations will be implemented.

“The new regulations coming will make it more difficult for persons who operate illegally and also offer stiffer penalties within the petroleum trade. Because if they are operating illegally there is no proper oversight,” Wheatley shared.

“Even the existing legislation needs some strengthening and new legislation needs to be put in place to protect the chain of custody of petroleum products from the point of entry into the country to it being dispensed at the pump.”

Wheatley said a special inspectorate will be put together that will be equipped and have investigative powers in an effort to minimise, if not completely eradicate, the illegal gas trade.

The minister stated, “It is something that the government takes seriously and we are going to ensure that we put a stop to all these illegal activities. I want to encourage persons who know of these illegal activities taking place in their communities to report it to the relevant authorities. It is not about stopping a man’s food, it is really about the safety of the community. The incident on Jacques Road should raise that level of awareness.”

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com