Mar 31, 2013 News
– Staff members
If history is reviewed, it may be noted that many of today’s thriving nations at some point in time raked in a heap of wealth from the drug trade, but none has actually maintained sustainability on that alone.
Fuel has however moved poor, economically weak economies into technologically modernized and mechanized states, making merchants out of some, whether distributed legally or illegally.
It is no wonder why in Guyana; fuel smuggling has become the next big thing to the drug trade although workers of the agency that monitors fuel importation and distribution say more cash is imbedded in the illegal distribution of fuel, particularly diesel.
In fact, staffers of the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) say that they are fighting a losing battle against the illegal fuel trade. According to them, it appears that top brass officials have a fair hand in the allowance of fuel smuggling and by all means appear to be facilitating culprits close to home for a slice of the pie.
The fight against fuel smuggling
It was related that legal fuel enters the country through legitimate importers, it is marked by the GEA and the importers sell and distribute. Illegal fuel in most cases is smuggled by sea, coming mainly from Venezuela where it’s the cheapest.
However to keep up, field officers say foolproof strategies and efficient systems need to be put in place. In Pomeroon, officers say they work mostly on the water but they say that their wooden boat with its 75-horse power engine is no match for a smuggler’s 150 to 200 horse power machines.
“Basically we are out performed and we can’t catch these people. We had an 85 horse power engine now we have a 75 horse power engine.”
It was explained that in Linden, the gateway to the interior, there is a GEA base with one officer allegedly posted there per shift. Two difficulties highlighted are that, “one officer is not sufficient to service the area. For instance, with five “bush trucks” carrying some 20 barrels of fuel coming for checks at the same time cannot efficiently check these trucks varying in sizes, and carrying large amounts of fuel.”
Additionally, the base at the Linden Bridge, the source said, will never be reached if a smuggler wants to move his fuel. According to the officer, “The smuggler could use the Essequibo River; take the fuel to Bartica where there is no GEA base and bypass the Linden Bridge. But if there was a base at the junction of Konawaruk and Tumatumari you can’t bypass that.”
In Region One, field officers alleged that the area is visited at least twice a year. “But this is one of the well known areas from where smuggled fuel gets to filter through into other parts of the country.”
“They (officials) would say we ain’t finding fuel but any positive agency needs to be proactive. You can’t work an eight-to-four shift and expect results. A smuggler would have had Phagwah Day, Good Friday and Monday is Easter to do his business because we don’t work on weekends and holidays and by four o’clock workers are off the road.”
The energy agents highlighted poor and dangerous working conditions under which they must function. They said that many times they are threatened and in some cases attacked by fuel smugglers but bigger heads never investigate or apprehend culprits.
There are known smugglers. “A fuel smuggler in the Pomeroon would release bees when his site is visited, but the administration would not investigate these matters or even ask about the well being of an injured worker.”
There have been other cases the workers continued, where smugglers have pulled guns on field officers and threatened to take their lives. “It is a dangerous job and when you’re going out there you are unarmed. They said that one officer must stay on a site while the police are being called in when the fuel is found, but what power does an unarmed worker have in the meantime while a smuggler seeks to get rid of their illegal fuel?”
In Golden Fleece, Essequibo, where the agency has one of its bases, workers said that male and female workers must stay in the same living quarters. They said the lodge is inhabitable, the bathroom has a huge hole in the wall. “If a female wants to take a bath, the officer has to leave the house and if he doesn’t want to leave the house then the female cannot bathe.”
Unattended cases of fuel smuggling
Within the GEA, staffers say the designated field workers operate specifically for the location of illegal fuel. A senior member of that team said that there are numerous major cases of fuel smuggling that top ranking agency officials know of but have directly instructed that these persons not be touched.
“There are over 30 cases of fuel smuggling, but they (named officials) say we find no fuel. When we identify breaches, they (named officials) make excuses for them or tell us to give them time so they can get themselves in order and we are never sent back to those locations. But I believe that what goes for one goes for all”
For instance, the source said, in Kwakwani at least seven cases were found where duty free fuel was being sold illegally. It was related that fuel from a major mining firm with duty free concession is sold illegally by contractors who may have a surplus of fuel.
“They (named mining company) do not have proper systems in place to monitor the fuel given to contractors hired to conduct the firm’s work. So if every month a certain amount of fuel is collected and fuel is left back from the month before then the extra fuel is sold illegally. We highlighted those cases but for some reason they were never pursued.”
Some of the most well known smugglers, the officer alleged, are closely affiliated with the governing class. “The biggest illegal distributor of fuel in that area is a big supporter of the ruling party so right away you know that’s a hands-off, but checks would show that most of the illegal fuel comes through there, yet still nothing is being done about it.”
Kaieteur News was told that a named smuggler was found on East Coast Demerara with eight drums of illegal fuel. The boat and the fuel were seized. “By the time we could take the items to lodge we received a call to seize the engine and the fuel but to return the boat.”
The source however argued that if the agency really wanted to curb fuel smuggling why would one want to return a boat to a known smuggler?
Sometimes, cases do make it to court, but the source alleged that one would have to lie to hide the failure of the system. The officer said that there are Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that must be followed but because of this “anyhow” behaviour, persons may have to lie and say that they handed over samples to the analyst, when in fact the analyst was nowhere to be found. “For example, evidence samples may have been left in a vehicle whole weekend because the analyst was not located, but when you go to court you have to say it was handed over to the analyst or risk losing your job.”
In other cases, the officer alleged that evidence is not readily available because of slothfulness in testing and procedures, thus causing cases to be thrown out.
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