The government has kyboshed a plan to tackle dangerous and illegal filling stations at source, claiming to do so “would not be in line with the Government’s principle of facilitating the business sector and the general public”.
Security Bureau released an unambiguous statement against the plan to update Dangerous Goods legislation just hours after an Ombudsman press conference spelled out a fresh strategy to tackle around 350 illegal fuelling blackspots around the city.
According to the Ombudsman, while the uniformed services could better attack illegal fuelling activities through stiffer penalties, better publicity and a larger taskforce, the hugely profitable black market for diesel needs Security Bureau to step up with a new regulatory regime.
“[Fire Services Department’s efforts] can hardly tackle the root of the problem. To address the problem of illegal filling stations at root, a more effective approach is to attempt to stem the supply of fuels for these stations,” said the Ombudsman report released today, spelling out Security Bureau as the responsible party.
This is the suggestion which Security Bureau says it “cannot accept,” claiming, without presenting any study or research, that any monitoring or regulation of supply “may cause inconvenience to the public’s daily lives, business operations, and more.”
“The idea of combatting illicit fuelling activities at source is impracticable and its effect of curbing illicit fuelling activities is limited,” it says in a statement.
According to the Ombudsman’s investigation, oil firms are selling diesel to distributors with “[no] idea about the identity of the clients purchasing diesel fuel,” which makes tracing the suppliers of illegal fuelling stations impossible.
Furthermore, the Ombudsman said, legislation does not regulate, in any way, the supply and sale of dangerous goods such as diesel or empower authorities to mandate suppliers to provide client information for tracking fuel flows.
But Security Bureau says any attempts to change the law will “not be in line with the legislative intent and purpose of the Dangerous Goods Ordinance. It will also go beyond its regulatory scope.”
Although illegal fuel stations are hugely prevalent in the city, operating in broad daylight around industrial areas such as Tsing Yi, Security Bureau has allocated just seven people to a task force to handle the bootleg gas jockeys.
And prosecutions often falter: the Ombudsman investigation found that between 2016 and mid-2021, not one offender prosecuted was given jail time, while the maximum fines levied ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 – a rate which the Ombudsman says is “insufficient to create an adequate deterrent effect in comparison with the profits derived from operating illegal filling stations.