Gas pumps ordered closed at 17 service stations
But source of fuel contamination still not knownTuesday, December 29, 2015
THE authorities last night ordered pumps at 17 service stations to be closed as a result in the wake of reports of bad fuel being sold by at least 26 stations across the island, but Government scientists are still not able to prove the source of the contamination.
This means that unsuspecting motorists may still be at risk for purchasing contaminated gasolene, but the Government says its hands are tied until it is determined which stations actually do have the bad fuel in their tanks.
"I do not wish to know whose stations have been tested and where there has been contamination because we want to make sure that it is being done in a transparent way, but also that we safeguard the interest of the persons who are involved, especially because we are not able at this stage to determine who is at fault," Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell said at a hastily-called press conference yesterday.
Professor Winston Davidson, who heads Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) which is carrying out tests on samples from service stations islandwide, said the Government has no legal grounds on which to shut down the operations of the remaining 14 stations that have been fingered, without scientific proof. He emphasised that contamination could have happened at any point along the chain, such as while the fuel was being shipped.
Seven service stations in Kingston have been found with the substandard fuel, accounting for the majority of the samples that have tested positive for contaminants so far, according to the BSJ, which is conducting the tests in partnership with Petrojam — the State-owned oil refinery. Three stations have been found in St James, two in Manchester, one in St Catherine, one in St Thomas, and three in Clarendon.
Professor Davidson explained that gum was the major culprit among the contaminants discovered. Davidson said that, although testing is being done islandwide, the BSJ had opted to present the first set of final results in the interest of the public, at the minister’s insistence.
"This is what we were able to do at this time. We can’t force the timing of the tests. Each test has a specific time," he explained.
He said that all stations in Portland have been sampled and that these are "being routed" to the BSJ’s labs, while those in Clarendon and Manchester were to be completed as of yesterday. Meanwhile, testing in the the parish of St James is 50 per cent completed, while that in Kingston, St Thomas, St Mary is to be completed today and St Ann, by tomorrow. Westmoreland has already been completed and samples from Hanover are also scheduled for completion.
At the same time, the Major Organised Crime Agency (MOCA) has now been mandated to track down illegal traders and bring them to book, Minister Paulwell announced.
He said changes are also coming for legislation governing the sector, and that the changes had, in fact, been in train for months now with Cabinet having already issued drafting instructions. Among the ammendments are significant increases in fines and sentences. Tracking devices are to be installed on tanker wagons and their routes designated, so that these carriers will be mandated to only travel along specified roadways, the energy minister said.
Furthermore, a review of licences is coming for all players in the industry, as well as recertification of their operations. "It is not proposed that we are going to halt the applicability of their existing permits, but each one will have to come in for recertification going forward," Paulwell explained.
The energy minister said the trade can expect that monitoring and auditing systems will be "institutionalised" so that data collection is done along the entire chain of the trade, not just at specific points as is now the case.
Wholesalers will be targeted next as the Government tries to track down the source of the contamination. Samples have already been taken from major importers and the results should be ready by January 2, Paulwell disclosed.
"It has to involve not only the retailers, but the full chain of suppliers in this market. So, having done these tests at the retail end, the Bureau has agreed that, starting with the major importers, to pursue testing at that end," he said.
But although the BSJ and the energy ministry are adamant that names will not be called, President of the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (JGRA) Leonard Green said service station owners are not in a good mood.
"There is significant anxiety in the trade. If retailers are fingered, their response will be that they are at the end of that chain of custody; they are obliged by contract to take products supplied by their marketing companies, so it is a very defensive mood, because based on the present arrangement it would be very difficult to have most of our retailers being held culpable," he stated.