MOST fuel retailers lack knowledge of standard operating procedure and best practices which affect their efficient operations, according to the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera).
The regulator revealed this at a retail service stations standards training workshop in Bulawayo on Wednesday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the seminar, Zera engineer in charge of petroleum infrastructure Andrew Guri said most problems troubling retailers were a result of ignorance, leading to their constant punishment and loss.
“Our target audience today is the small-scale retailers, most of whom do not have any experience, knowledge or idea of handling petroleum products,” Guri said.
He said since liberalisation of the industry in 2003, many people had ventured into the sector breaking an oligopoly where only five players distributed fuel.
He, however, noted that entrants into the sector needed tutelage on the industry, which was the downside of the deregulation process where people now had to be trained while already in operation.
“When we did our inspections in 2014, we noticed that the compliance rate to the standards was about 70% and we are trying to close the 30% gap by raising awareness and giving these guys knowledge,”Guri said.
During the workshop, retailers expressed concern over many issues, but losses emanating from transportation of fuel took centre stage.
Retailers queried issues to do with differences in measurement of delivered fuel as a result of many factors, including temperature, changed calibration variables and measurement tools which all compromised verification of transported products.
However, Guri said such issues were not regulated by Zera as no standard was currently in place to benchmark transportation of petroleum products.
“Such issues are therefore left to two parties in business with each other to iron out and contractually agree on treatment of such matters. But we are currently working on a standard to regulate transportation and the process has actually been fast tracked with inputs from all stakeholders,” he added.
Specialised Consulting Associates managing director Steve Mpofu, who conducted the training programme, told retailers that most problems emanated from taking shortcuts and compromises to maximise sales.
“Nowadays retailers seek out the least expensive service and product provider, but at times that means compromising some issues which ensure that business is done above board,” Mpofu said.
Mpofu gave an example of calibration problems where some calibrators failed to issue out certificates stating all variables during calibration as unprofessional operators who were most likely not certified by Zera.
“You should know your obligation to request some certification and query anomalies. There is need to know that you can refuse delivery of questionable products,” he added.
Mpofu implored retailers to aspire towards fair operations saying there were cases of pump meter tempering which were not acceptable.
Guri said although lack of knowledge was paramount in restricting retailers, other challenges bedeviling the sector like regulation compliance costs were problematic.
Concerns have been raised that business in the country is overregulated, raising cost of production and lowering competitiveness Guri said Zera was lobbying sister regulators to reduce their costs which have been cited as a major factor towards non-compliance.