LPG operators boycott meeting with Energy Ministry

BY: Mabel Aku Baneseh & Della Russel Ocloo
Commercial and private vehicles, as well as domestic LPG users, queue to refill their cylinders in anticipation of a shortage of the product during the intended strike action by the operators. Pictures: DOUGLAS ANANE-FRIMPONG
Commercial and private vehicles, as well as domestic LPG users, queue to refill their cylinders in anticipation of a shortage of the product during the intended strike action by the operators. Pictures: DOUGLAS ANANE-FRIMPONG

The leadership of the Ghana LPG Operators Association (GLiPGOA) yesterday boycotted a scheduled meeting between the Ministry of Energy to discuss misunderstandings over the implementation of the Cylinder Re-Circulation Model (CRM) policy.

Members of GLiPGOA had served notice of an impending strike with effect from Monday, May 21, 2018 over the National Petroleum Authority’s (NPA) decision to push through the CRM.

According to the leadership of the association, they declined the meeting due to the manner in which it was communicated to them.

“I told the Deputy Minister of Energy, Dr Amin Adam, that we will only honour the meeting if we receive an official communication spelling out modalities for the discussions from the ministry and not through a telephone call from him,”

Togbui Adaku V, the President of the GLiPGOA, told the Daily Graphic in Tema yesterday.

Government reaction

However, the government has described the action of GLiPGOA to embark on a nationwide strike not only as disappointing but an attempt to compel the government to abandon its Cylinder Re-circulation Model policy.

It said the policy would not only increase local participation but also ensure safety standards in the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) value chain across the country.

A statement signed by a Deputy Information Minister, Mr Curtis Perry Okudzeto, explained that before going public with the policy, the government tasked the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) to work out a road map acceptable to all stakeholders in the implementation process.

“This very road map includes a local content framework which ensures that Ghanaians become the fulcrum around which the policy operates, while strengthening their capacity to expand,” it explained.

Job creation

Those engagements, which the statement said were ongoing, had taken place with the direct involvement of GLiPGOA, represented by its President, Togbui Adaku V, adding that the concerns of GLiPGOA had been factored into the broader working document.

“From projections, the potential impact of the new LPG distribution model indicates that a minimum of about 5,000 direct jobs will be created in addition to the existing jobs in the industry estimated to be around 3,500.

“The new areas in the supply chain which are bottling and transportation of filled cylinders will create new businesses and jobs once the distribution model becomes operational,” it stated

Safety

The statement pointed out that one of the fundamental aspects of the model was to enhance the safety of Ghanaians across the LPG value chain.

“Under the new policy and in line with international best practice, LPG bottling plants will be established within heavy industrial areas or locations as far away as possible from human habitation. The current mode of refilling LPG cylinders at the over 650 refilling plants nationwide, majority of which are located within human habitats, will be gradually phased out and the outlets converted into cylinder exchange points,” it stated.

The statement stressed that the new model did not in any way single out GLiPGOA or any other group as an entity whose members’ operations had created safety liabilities and should be thrown out of work.

It urged the pubic to remain calm as measures were put in place to ensure LPG products continued to be available to them at everywhere in the country.

A key policy shift to accelerate the usage of LPG and also address safety concerns at refilling stations has seen the attempts by the NPA to roll out the LPG bottle recirculation model where individuals will no longer be required to own cylinders, but pay deposits and exchange their empty cylinder for one filled with LPG.

Strike action

Togbui Adaku said the association had made its intention known to the ministry that the strike would hold as scheduled effective Monday, May 21, 2018 and would only end when the government addressed its concerns.

He wondered why the government, through the NPA, was determined to carry on with the programme after they had already allegedly engaged a contractor, Blue Ocean, to begin a rollout of the project without any form of piloting to determine how successful the project would be, especially when similar projects in the 1980s and mid- 1990s failed.
“How do you go about travelling from country to country, saying we have been to Morocco, Peru, Colombia and Cote I’Ivoire, among others, and the policy is working in these countries and so will work here in Ghana too when there are still safety lapses,” he queried.

He also intimated that operators took safety issues very seriously and had over the years been improving upon standards.

“The causes of most explosions at refilling stations often resulted from the Bulk Road Vehicles (BRVs) that transport products to these stations, thus making it look like the stations have safety issues,” Togbui Adaku stated.

Those BRVs, he said, were licensed by the NPA and whenever such incidents occurred, “the NPA turns to blame the operators when they failed to do due diligence in licensing the vehicles,” he lamented.

Panic buying

At a visit to some LPG refilling stations in Tema, theDaily Graphic witnessed scores of people engaged in panic buying so as to avoid being stranded should the vending stations shut down on Monday.

At the Kaysens Gas Vending Station near the Tema Port, scores of taxi drivers and domestic users were at the facility to purchase the product when the Daily Graphic team visited the facility at 10:30 a.m.

The situation was not different from the Kristo Asafo Gas Vending Station on the Tema General Hospital Road.

An attendant told the team that sales had been good following the public notice by the association.

Pockets of queues have been recorded in some gas filling plants in Accra following that notice.

Background

The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, ordered the implementation of the CRM on October 13, 2017, on the heels of a number of fire outbreaks at LPG refill plants.

The module to be enforced by the NPA requires that LPG filling points are sited out of densely populated areas and commercial centres.

Per that model, LPG bottling plants are to be sited away from congested commercial and population centres and will procure, brand, maintain and fill empty cylinders to be distributed to consumers and households through retail outlets.

The policy also requires that lowrisk LPG stations be designated for the supply of gas to vehicles.

The GLiPGOA pulled out of the CRM implementation committee that was set up, citing stiff resistance by the NPA to the association’s opposition to the classification of LPG filling plants into high and low risk facilities.