By Leonard Ncube
A total of 22 fuel service stations have been prosecuted since the beginning of the year for operating without licences as the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) descends on illegal fuel dealers.
This comes at a time when the energy regulator has been accused of failing to weed out fuel smuggling and illegal dealing, which has escalated countrywide with petrol and diesel now being sold in numerous residential houses as well as from cars on street corners in high density suburbs.
The fuel is reportedly smuggled from neighbouring countries where it is said to be cheaper than the local pump price.
Responding to emailed questions, following appearance in court by four dealers in Victoria Falls recently, Zera acting chief executive officer Engineer Michael Siyakatshana said the 22 service stations were swopped on after failing to produce operating licences.
“Zera does not allow retail operators to operate without licences. It conducts annual and scheduled monitoring and surveillance in the market to ensure the public is served by licensed operators only. In 2017 alone, 22 operators have been prosecuted to date for operating without a licence,” said Eng Siyakatshana.
He could not give details about the rest of the prosecuted garages. The four Victoria Falls garages are RAM Petroleum Limited that was operating at number 7731/2 and Jureshma Investment’s outlets namely Zuva Zambezi Service Station and two branches along Clark Road and Miles Road.
RAM Petroleum was fined $50 while Jureshma, which had three counts, was fined $100 after all the three counts were treated as one for sentence.
However, authorities at the garages alleged they had been short-changed by Zera who had failed to avail licences, which they had paid for at the beginning of the year.
They called for the regulator to decentralise so that applications can be made at provincial offices. Eng Siyakatshana said a dealer is given a seven-day notice to produce a valid Zera operating licence for fuel as required by the Petroleum Act [Chap. 13:22] of 2006.
“During the seven-day notice period, the site will not be closed as the law gives room for assumption of innocence until guilt is proven, hence the grace period to prove that they are operating legally.
“Failure to produce a valid licence within the seven-day period will result in litigation as was the case with the cited service stations in Victoria Falls,” he said.
Eng Siyakatshana, who professed ignorance on illegal fuel dealing on the black market, said processing of licences takes between 45 to 90 days after pre-licensing inspection.
He accused some retail operators of not providing the regulator with all the required documents hence they contribute to the delay. A licence to operate a fuel garage costs $575 including VAT for urban areas and $230 including VAT for rural areas.
Eng Siyakatshana said Zera was in the process of decentralising to Bulawayo and Mutare where offices will be opened soon. The Chronicle