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Zambia: Illegal Fuel Vending Continues to Cause Headaches

ILLEGAL fuel vending has continued to be rampant countrywide especially along major highways.

While the trade has created job opportunities for many people, especially the youth, the manner in which fuel is stored poses a great risk to traders, their families and people in communities.

On February 25, 2023, several people escaped with multiple injuries in Lusaka when a Volvo tanker which was carrying 45,000 litres of petrol caught fire as residents started looting the fuel.

And on March 5, a video went viral of a fuel tanker driver of a named Ndola based transport firm who was filmed siphoning fuel alongside unknown people in Lusaka.

·A VIDEO went viral recently in which a truck driver was filmed siphoning fuel which he sold to Lusaka residents.

While illegal selling of fuel has continued to flourish, a few years ago, seven members of the same family died in an inferno that was ignited by fuel which was stored in a house in Chongwe district.

With complete disregard for rules, petrol and diesel which are highly flammable liquids are being illegally sold on roadsides and communities.

It is in this regard that members of the public are once again calling on the Energy Regulation Board (ERB) and other relevant authorities to curb the illegal selling of fuel because vendors are not only risking their lives but those of the members of society too.

But according to ERB public relations manager Namukolo Kasumpa section 4 of the Energy Regulation Act No.12 of 2019, mandates the board to close any energy facility which poses safety and health concerns to the general public.

Licensing rules for petroleum retail outlets clearly state the safety regulations that have to be met, such as the need to keep away any fire or any spark-generating device from the filling area.

The licensing rules indicate that petroleum carried in a licensed vehicle (fuel tanker lorries) should not be directly transferred to any container or fuel tank of an internal combustion engine.

Ms Kasumpa says as consumers play an important role in raising alarm on product quality concerns, members of the public are encouraged to contact ERB on the toll-free 8484 whenever they are in doubt about the quality of petroleum sold to them.

She said recently, the ERB suspended operations of Karan Meanwood Service Station of Chongwe district following complaints received from customers who refueled from the retail site between February 15 and 25, 2023.

However, for many years now, it hasn’t been uncommon to see a trucker either on busy highways such as the Great North Road or Great East Road, involved in the illegal fuel trade with some truck drivers fingered in the siphoning of the fuel.

When the vendors buy the commodity from truckers, they mix the fuel with water in order to maximize profits.

This unfortunate situation results in motorists damaging their vehicle engines because of using adulterated fuel.

In some cases, the trade has flourished further because there is not a single fuel pump station near some villages in some Zambian districts.

This is because most of the filling stations are located in towns.

Ikeleng’i district of North- Western Province is one such area that does not have any single filling station, while Luwingu in Northern Province has only recently had its first filling station opened.

The economics is simple.

Motorists have to travel to a nearby filling station to buy a few litres of fuel, so they prefer paying an extra fee per litre and buy fuel illegally from the illegal vendors who access the commodity from truckers.

The vendors themselves seem to be aware that selling and storing petrol without a valid licence is illegal.

According to the Petroleum Act, fuel should be kept in tight containers to avoid fatalities.

But despite laws being in place, the trade is flourishing on the highway.

Vendors can be seen sitting by the roadside selling fuel in containers.

Incidentally, on one of the author’s visits to Muchinga Province, an illegal fuel vendor was seen selling fuel just 500 metres from a police station in the Serenje area on the Great North Road.

His business activities are done in the open and surprisingly, no action has

been taken against him.

In 2014, the late veteran politician Daniel Munkombwe who at the time was Southern Province Minister called for the curbing of illegal fuel vending to safeguard the lives of people in the country.

He spoke during an ERB event.

The late politician spoke of an incident that happened sometime back in Dambwa Township in Livingstone where a family was lost and the fuel vendor was burnt to death after fuel which was illegally being kept in the house caught fire.