A couple of people at the company I work for have been affected by contaminated petrol. The fuel pump in the car has been damaged and needs replacement. So far it seems that only petrol cars have been affected, particularly those pumping 90 octane fuel, there are no reports of problems with diesel or 95 octane petrol.
Rumours of substandard or contaminated fuel have been circulating this week. True to form, they were immediately dismissed as vile propaganda by the Government, notwithstanding the long queues of vehicles that were being brought into garages. There was hardly any press coverage either, apart from some brief reports carrying the denial.
When it became absolutely impossible to deny, the Government backtracked a bit and blamed rainwater for the problems. The first proper story emerged only today. It appears that dregs, possibly mixed with rainwater, may have caused the problem.
According to reports from friends and associates, the contaminated petrol contains a dense tar-like substance that clogs up the fuel pump in the vehicle. The fuel pump is lubricated by the fuel circulating inside so when the tar-like substance enters the whole pump seizes and needs replacement.
I called the owner of my garage today to inform him of the widespread reports and he said that he was already attending to one damaged fuel pump. Being a rather innovative character, he had managed to clean the pump and it seems to be working, at least on the repair bench. He has not yet put it into the vehicle, so there is no saying that the pump can work properly enough with a full load of fuel.
It would be advisable for motorists to wait a week or so before filling up or to use 95 octane fuel, if they must fill up immediately.
Looking at the bigger picture, if rainwater or dregs were indeed the problem it seems strange that diesel and 95 octane petrol have not been affected. Rumours of a price increase last week saw queues at filling stations, so it is possible that the tanks ran low resulting in contaminated dregs of fuel being pumped, but this does not explain why diesel and 95 octane were not affected.
The knee-jerk reaction of the Government to any problem is to deny everything and blame it on a conspiracy. This would be laughable if it were not so serious. The lack of transparency, together with a growing culture of impunity are at root of this.
Transparency sounds like a rather woolly, fanciful idea, but it is the basic necessity if a Government is to be held to account. If the public do not know anything, they can hardly ask questions, so if Government is to be held accountable, then information must be freely available and widely disseminated, hence the importance of the media. In this instance, after days of rumours and denials, it is only now that we see some information emerging, and for the poor motorists, little advice on what the problem is or how to cope with it. As for recovery of costs, forget it. The defeat of the freedom of information bill is symptomatic of this malaise (an analysis of it s importance is available here).
There is also the (possibly related problem) of corruption. There were (unverified) reports on the web that the Acting Chairman had imported substandard fuel from Singapore, implying that he had done it to enrich himself. Too often, people are ready to dismiss corruption saying it is everywhere or that a little bit will not hurt. If this is indeed the result of corruption, then it would serve as a good example of how its true cost is borne by society-at-large.