Parliament endorses fuel-marking scheme By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
March 16, 2004

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THE National Assembly yesterday approved the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) Amendment Bill, which seeks to update legislation to accommodate the introduction of the fuel marking scheme and provisions for penalties for those who are found to be involved in the illegal importation of fuel.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds who introduced the Bill yesterday in the National Assembly noted that since the introduction of the fuel-marking scheme late last year smuggling of the commodity has been reduced but still remains a significant problem.

The smuggling of fuel into Guyana has resulted in huge losses of revenue to the national treasury, Hinds said.

He pointed out, however that before the marking of legal fuel began, smuggled fuel was about 20%-30%, that figure has now been reduced to an estimated 10%-15%.

He stressed that the law provides for stiff penalties including one to five million dollars in fines and three to five years in jail in addition to the confiscation of property.

However, Hinds referring to the noticeable reduction in illegal fuel since the introduction of fuel marking, said the government prefers that everyone conform to the law rather than having to go the route of prosecution.

Working People's Alliance/Guyana Action Party (WPA/GAP) Member of Parliament Ms. Sheila Holder, while supporting the Bill, observed that it took too long to introduce measures to curb the illegal fuel business thus resulting in huge losses of revenue to the national treasury. She also contended that the measures were not introduced by the government of its volition, but rather as a result of pressure from international institutions to meet revenue collection targets.

However, Minister within the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security, Bibi Shadick and Odinga Lumumba, Presidential Adviser on Empowerment, countered that it is better to do something late than not to do it at all, adding that the illegal fuel business was in existence even before the advent of the present government.

Lumumba observed that fuel smuggling has resulted in an estimated US10M loss in revenue annually, and this he said is very important to a poor country like Guyana. Such funds he asserted could be used to boost the salaries of teachers, nurses, members of the security forces and public servants. However, he argued that "you can't do everything at the same time" noting that schools, roads, hospitals and other social facilities had to be fixed therefore it was necessary to prioritorize.