Columns

It's more than a cake

Petrojam affair is treason against the citizens of Jamaica

Michael Diamond

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

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I recall having an interview with journalist Cliff Hughes on January 5, 2016 regarding the 'bad gas' saga. Now, almost three years later, we are discovering that the ministry, with the regulatory oversight, was incapable of any meaningful action(s) to investigate and/or to mitigate the situation.

The recent audit report from the Auditor General's Department highlights clear and certain dereliction of duty, raising serious questions and concerns regarding the so-called findings, or the lack thereof, into the 'source' of the contaminated petroleum.

In light of the auditor general's findings that the issue crosses successive administrations there's all the more reasons for an independent investigation into the methodology employed by said Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica and Petrojam, collectively, in the handling of the investigation into the source of bad gas.

Thousand of consumers took significant financial and property losses with no redress or chance of compensation. A full review of the 'report' shows that the Government, through the Ministry of Energy, was complicit in denying consumers right to redress, while constructively and deliberately shielding the culprits responsible for the sourcing and distribution of the contaminated petroleum. At the heart of it, each individual customer affected had the right to seek redress directly from the vendors which sold them the contaminated petroleum. In turn, the vendor would then seek redress from the supplier(s).

The undue interference by the Government gave motorists and consumers alike the general impression that the matter will be mitigated on their behalf by the Government, through the Ministry of Energy. This turned out to be nothing more than political aggrandisement, as affected motorists are still left stranded. Energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley declared that the Petroleum Trade Reform Committee was finished with the 'bad gas' investigations without nothing further (see 'Wheatley says motorists will have to rely on marketers for bad gas compensation as a gesture of goodwill', October 25, 2016, The Gleaner). Bear in mind that the Consumer Affairs Commission and the National Consumers League of Jamaica have received well over 400 complaints collectively from affected motorists.

The petroleum trade is a 'cash on delivery' business. Therefore, the vendor is of full knowledge of which provider sold the vendor the contaminated petroleum. The quasi so-called report on 'bad gas' submitted by the Petroleum Trade Reform Committee, which failed to name the companies that sold the contaminated petrol, is unacceptable and may well be another act of collusion on their part and accessories after the fact — all the more reason for an immediate independent investigation into the bad gas saga.

The consumers need protection, not the providers and marketers who deliberately sold the contaminated product to vendors. The auditor general's report of flagrant disregard for internal and external protocols is far-reaching given the magnitude of the energy regulator's role and responsibility in the market.

Five billion dollars worth of oil missing; a US$1,000-designer birthday cake; ridiculously inflated salaries to Petrojam executives; and the poor financial management of projects are all serious breaches. The breach of failing to protect the consumers and motorists affected by bad gas is tantamount to an encroachment on our national security.

Let us not simply sweep these findings to the side just to move on to the next trending thing. Granted, the appetite of the masses for sensationalism is insatiable. We can no longer afford to be distracted by political manoeuvrings. The situation revealed by the auditor general's report requires every individual citizen's full attention, as we are the ultimate owners of Petrojam.

Michael Diamond is vice-president of the National Consumers League of Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or natcomle@cwjamaica.com.

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