By Chimwemwe Mwanza
A liberalised fuel and lubricants market has its prons and cons. Thanks in part to the ever-increasing number of entrants, an industry that was once considered a bastion of multi-national heavyweights among which include Engen, Sasol, Puma (formerly BP), and Total Energies is opening up.
Enter Mount Meru – a diversified energy products distributor, Harvest, an ambitious energy outfit that is eating market share from the established guard and behaving pretty much like a baby born with teeth, Petroda, Surya, Afro, and Oryx Energies among others, the Zambian consumer is spoilt for choice.
On count, the spread for fuel stations on one stretch from Woodlands shopping center, through Lewanika mall into the ring road heading towards New Kasama, averages a new fuel station for every 2km covered. The more the merrier, so goes an adage – especially for some consumers who at times have had to walk some distance to re-fuel mulika – 5L container just in case utu mafuta twapwila munshila and then have to circle back to the trouble scene.
Even the Presidential motorcade has options too. On its daily commute from Community to State House, it can either swing by Surya, Spectra or Puma – in the event that the refuelling stations at State House run out. To be precise, it’s raining fuel stations in Zambia – never been this good. I’m sure tuchili tule dabwa, come end of 2024. This off course is the upside of liberalisation.
The downside? To what benefit is the flood of new fuel stations to the consumer if the pump prices are still hurting the pocket, makes you wonder. On reflection, it’s fair to suggest that souring petroleum prices are not unique to Zambia. And this is largely a reflection of the impact of geo-political tensions in both the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Surely, can’t some people knock some sence into Putin and Zelensky, so this conflict comes to an end? For goodness sake, this is 2024, a New Year for that matter.
Is your fuel free from contamination?
To more serious stuff, there is a potential danger lurking in the proliferation of fuel stations. While not visible to the naked eye this danger requires you the consumer to be extremely vigilant when re-fuelling your skedonks. Oil Marketing Companies (OMC) in cohorts with companies in the lower value-chain of distribution are known for rapacious profiteering. Add this to the fact that this industry has the most unscrupulous tax dodgers who care too little about the environment, human rights and other consumer related concerns, their transgressions are boundless.
If you dare argue, then look no further than the high number of energy companies that have had to settle with respective governments and consumers in some West and East African countries – for tax offences and violation of environmental regulations among other transgressions. It just doesn’t end there; some of these companies are known to sell adulterated products to unsuspecting clients – especially diesel – just so they bump up their profits.
How does this work? Fuel adulteration involves mixing diesel with foreign substances like paraffin. It’s a global scourge used to trick consumers into buying sub-standard fuel so traders can maximise profits without bearing the risky impacts of this activity. This has been known to happen in many parts of the continent – highly likely this is happening in Zambia especially given the rising costs of petroleum products.
The trouble though is that this practice could be a reason for the rapid deterioration of engines for many cars congesting our roads. Even worse, isn’t it strange that the average lifespan of an engine for a motor vehicle criss-crossing Zambian roads is lower than that of a similar vehicle purring the streets of Botswana? Never mind the fact that nearly 75% of motor vehicles on Zambian roads are second hand Japanese – owned vehicles, it can’t be that the plumes of smoke polluting Cha Cha Cha, Independence Avenue, Lumumba and Burma roads is all from pre-owned Japanese skedonks. Just wondering.
Is ERB doing its job?
Agreed, it’s not the consumer or end-user’s job to ascertain whether the quality of diesel, petrol or lubricants sold at these pumps is of acceptable standard. The consumer’s responsibility begins and ends with paying for the product delivered.
This responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of Zambia’s Energy Regulations Board (ERB). But has the ERB ever conducted spot checks at any pump station to test the chemical composition of petroleum products on sale? If they do, how regularly do ERB inspectors conduct checks on the quality of petroleum products?
Asked differently, does the ERB even have the capacity to ensure compliance regarding the quality of fuel and other lubricants sold at these stations? More questions. What role do they play in ensuring that all new entrants in the market use quality material in the construction of fuel stations – and remember one can’t just wake up one morning and start building a fuel station in their backyard. Fuel stations store hazardous material hence the need to keep distance between a station and the next residential property.
Until or unless each of the fuel stations operating in Zambia begin to display authentic ERB endorsed certificates, it’s fair to accuse them of selling adulterated petroleum products. Prove otherwise, we may be right after all.
For feedback, email [email protected] *Mwanza was given a cream white Toyota Vitz to aid his mobility during the December festive break. What a vehicle, perfect engine, no smoke coming out of its rear. Takalya amafuta. Denny – change the front shocks. By the way, Au revoir and many thanks to an Anfield legend, Jurgen Klopp for the 8 memorable years at Anfield. A blessed 2024 to you all LT readers.