Fines pending for illegal fuel
Stabroek News
February 21, 2004

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Dealers in smuggled fuel could soon be facing fines and jail time as the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) intensifies its crackdown on the trade.

Some 10% of fuel supplies sampled at retail and private sites have been deemed questionable with significant levels being seen on the Essequibo Coast and in Region Seven (Cuyuni/ Mazaruni) where mining operations are the main customers.

GEA Head, Joseph O'Lall told the media yesterday that letters informing operators of their status and likely consequences have been dispatched.

It is part of a four-month-old fuel marking campaign designed by United Kingdom Company Biocode.

Currently all fuel legally imported is being marked with a biological agent including that of all the major oil companies which each have individual markers.

According to O'Lall these letters will be the first and only warning as the GEA begins gearing itself for prosecutions which could even see offenders imprisoned and their property confiscated.

Impending regulations say that fines could amount to $1M to $5M as well as three to five years' imprisonment. Property including tanks or other assets could also be seized if found to be ill-gotten gains from the trade.

Prime Minister Sam Hinds, who was also at yesterday's briefing, said the regulations should be ready within the next four to six weeks.

According to Hinds, the bill which had its first reading in Parliament in December, and to which an amendment was made to allow for confiscation of property on land, will be taken through its second and third readings at the next sitting.

Meanwhile fuel inspectors are being positioned to start on-the-spot analysis of the tanks of cars, minibuses, trucks, tractors and generating sets.

Hinds said that while there had been noticeable reductions in the prevalence of illegal fuel the levels were still sufficiently high to continue to be a cause for concern.

According to Hinds, the findings of the second assessment phase up to January 27 showed there remained some questionable sites.

Meetings are scheduled with oil companies and site operators to brief them on the findings of the programme and to increase attention on those sites continuing to deal in smuggled fuel, Hinds said.

Meanwhile sites operating legitimately are being issued with certificates of conformity as a way of adding pressure to those still found wanting as well as making the public aware of clean dealers, O'Lall said.

O'Lall admitted that the GEA is in no position to pinpoint where the illicit fuel was coming from but rather it has a reasonable suspicion.

Hinds also hinted at the likelihood of a team of evaluators being tasked with targeting operators on the Essequibo Coast.

A chart illustrating the comparison of the latest evaluation with that of the initial ones shows that while some areas have shown significant improvements others have not, particularly Region Seven.

Region Two (Pomeroon/ Supenaam) was the other area with a significantly high level of dilution. However, tests on sites in Regions Five (Mahaica/West Berbice) and Ten (Upper Demerara/Upper Berbice) showed negligible levels of fuel dilution. (Oscar P. Clarke)