Stiff penal­ties to ex­tin­guish il­le­gal gas trade

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Ryon Jones Staff Re­porter ryon.jones @glean­erjm.com

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 dam­age at $38 mil­lion.

As­sis­tant Com­mis­sioner of Po­lice (ACP) Glen­more Hinds said for years they have been try­ing to put a dent in the il­licit prac­tice 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, thereby plac­ing lives and prop­er­ties at even greater risk.

PROAC­TIVE MEA­SURES

“We had this sit­u­a­tion re­cently which re­sulted in loss of lives, loss of prop­erty, and dam­age to prop­erty, and so as soon as we have in­for­ma­tion that there are such other op­er­a­tions 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 gaso­lene 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 prac­tices 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 power to iden­tify these il­le­gal sites and comb ev­ery av­enue,” Spencer re­vealed. An il­le­gal gas-fill­ing plant on Jac­ques Road, St An­drew, that ex­ploded, killing and in­jur­ing sev­eral per­sons.

“The di­vi­sional heads of each par­ish are to en­sure that they have full knowl­edge of what is hap­pen­ing in there, and once we come upon 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.”

REG­U­LA­TIONS

In the mean­time, pres­i­dent of the Ja­maica Gaso­lene 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 amok 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.” An­drew Wheat­ley – min­is­ter of science, en­ergy and tech­nol­ogy.

NOR­MAN GRINDLEY

ACP Ge­orge Quallo

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