Suspected Cheating at Fuel Pumps: ‘10-litre standard measuring can’ to the rescue

Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”― H. James Harrington

 

In recent times, some consumers have complained to the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) about suspected cheating at the forecourts by some Oil Marketing Companies (OMC). Consumers deserve value for money, and the NPA is desirous to empower consumers with information about the ‘10-litre standard measuring can’, which must be available at all filling stations. Where doubt arises about the accuracy of a quantity of fuel, the consumer should demand the ‘10-litre standard measuring can’ to be used to verify the accuracy of fuel-quantity dispensed by the pump.

Mandate of NPA

Section 2(f) of the NPA Act 2005 (Act 691) mandates the Authority to monitor the standards of performance and quality of service provision rendered by the petroleum service providers (PSPs) to the Consumer. As a regulator of the petroleum downstream industry, we work in collaboration with the Ghana Standards Authority to ensure that fuel pumps at all fillings stations operate accurately and efficiently.

The ‘10-litre standard measuring can’

The ‘10 litre standard measuring can’, also known in the twi dialect as ‘Ntease Kuruwa’, was jointly introduced by the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) in collaboration with Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) in 2006. The synergy is meant to help resolve disputes that often arise out of suspected fuel cheating at the various filling stations’ pumps. To help ensure fairness and curtail cheating – as well as suspected under-hand dealings at filling stations across the country – the ‘10-litre standard measuring can’ was identified as a cardinal tool to protect consumers’ interests and maintain the highest standard of accuracy in the country’s provision of petroleum products delivery.

 

 

 

Background

In the wake of increases in price of petroleum products in the country during January 2003, motorists became very sensitive to the quantity of petroleum products dispensed at the pumps; consumers become suspicious that pump attendants delivered less quantity of fuel than the standard measurement. This is known in the petroleum industry as ‘under-delivery’, which robs the consumer of value for money. Besides customer disputes at the forecourt, a strained working relationship also developed between bulk road vehicle drivers and petroleum dealers as a result of some underhand dealings, or prevalent shortages in quantities of bulk fuel supplies to their outlets.

According to the tanker drivers, the shortages in the product during distribution are unavoidable losses because they are due to temperature variation which is beyond their control. They attribute the shortage to what they termed apparent losses – a claim the dealers’ dispute. To the dealers, “the losses are physical and are due to manipulation by the drivers”; i.e. physical losses.

In such situations, most tanker drivers steadfastly refuse to accept liability for such product shortages and consequently decline to countersign the Product Delivery Notes. Problems of inaccurate calibrations at the pumps have also been a great challenge to regulators in their enforcement duties. In all these misunderstandings, stakeholders have always worked together to find lasting solutions to the disputes.

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Calibration is a process of establishing a standard and accurate measurement for a measuring device. The Ghana Standards Authority employs this method biannually to ensure that each dispensing unit at the retail stations delivers within the tolerable limit to give customers the right quantity of product purchased.

Even though the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) examines and certifies the dispensing machines at the retail outlets, it is suspected that some dishonest dealers connive with pump mechanics to tamper with the GSA calibrations in the name of maintenance – thereby compromising official seals on the pumps. This alters the system to short-change innocent motorists and make illegal monetary gains. All of these are breaches of the regulatory standards.

The Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) are to have a compliance officer that should know when each dispensing unit should be calibrated, then the GSA will be called in to do it. Presently, the GSA has outsourced some of these jobs to some mechanics who are licenced to do that.

Following persistent complaints from the Petroleum Retailers Association and other customers of the oil marketing companies about loss of fuel in the delivery process, and the concerns raised by the motoring public about cheating at the filling stations, it was decided that the National Oil Loss Control Committee be reactivated to help address problems associated with losses across the entire supply chain – this being transportation, distribution, marketing and sales.

The National Oil Loss Control Committee, whose membership includes representatives of the Ministry of Energy, Energy Commission, Ghana Standards Board now Ghana Standards Authority, Petroleum Retailers Association, Tema Oil Refinery, Tanker Owners Union, Ghana Tanker Drivers Union, Societe General De Surveillance (SGS), Volta Lake Transport Company (VLTS), the Oil Marketing Companies and Bulk Oil Storage & Transport Company met and made a number of recommendations.

Among the recommendations is a need for the NPA to mount intensive educational campaigns on petroleum product transportation, delivery, retail and loss control. Dealers and Tanker Drivers also need to be educated on the phenomenon, with regard to the causes of apparent loss of petroleum products due to temperature variations.

How best can we paint a picture of the can in this piece?

The onus is on the OMCs to ensure use of the ‘10-litre can’ each day in their operations, to assure consumers that pumps are dispensing the right quantities of fuel. Sometimes, the pumps malfunctions and over-dispenses fuel (known as over-delivery) – and that is to the advantage of the consumer and cost to the dealers. The 10-litre measuring can draws a fair balance for both consumers and the filling station

A recent interaction with some motorists by the NPA revealed that challenges in the petroleum supply chain still exist. Most motorists are still not satisfied with the quantity of fuel dispensed at the various retail outlets. Likewise, the filling station dealers or owners are also not pleased with the services of tanker drivers, as they keep supplying fuel below the expected quantities.

Dear consumer, “If you are in doubt of the quantity of fuel purchased, demand a cross-check of the delivery status of the pump with the 10-litre standard measure certified by the Ghana Standards Authority at the station”.

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Motorists are advised to closely observe the quantity and price indicators on the pumps when the fuel is being dispensed into their fuel tanks, to ensure they get their money’s worth of fuel. Also, they should not buy fuel dispensed from a pump with a Red-stamped sticker from the Ghana Standards Authority.

It is your right as a consumer of petroleum products to insist on value for money and help the NPA in its efforts to reduce cheating and under-handed dealings in the system.

How the 10-litre can works

In accordance with the NPA’s regulations, this instrument must be available at all filling stations, and must be provided to the consumer on demand to determine accuracy of the pump’s delivery.

To check the delivery level of the pump: 

  1. 10 litres of fuel is dispensed into the can, which fills the can up through to the neck, with a level indication display in the sight-glass. The glass level is marked for a tolerable limit of +0.5 and -0.5 margin of error. This calibration is known as the tolerance level, as illustrated in the diagram attached in Fig. 1.

 

The quantity of product offered for sale at the pump is assessed to ensure that the consumer is not cheated.

This means if the fuel measures +0.5 more or -0.5 lower, the pump has delivered the right volume. If the fuel displays below the calibration, then the pump is not delivering the right volume.

In some cases, fuel dispensed into the 10-litre can does not show up at all in the level glass; this also means that the pump is delivering below the desired volume.

The Consumer Service Department of the Authority hopes the illustration above (Fig.1) will guide the consumer in determining whether the service station is delivering value for money. Where it is established that a particular retail outlet is delivering lower volume than expected, the consumer is encouraged to inform the National Petroleum Authority (NPA), and the Authority in collaboration with the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) will rectify the anomaly and sanction the outlet through its OMC.

 

Conclusion

The Authority protects the consumers’ and operators’ interests alike; however, the consumer is number one, and hence deserves to be served with the following service standards at the filling stations;

  • Quality fuel
  • The right to buy fuel within the prescribed price
  • Receive professional customer service
  • Clean environment including washroom, and
  • Safe service environment.

The Authority’s toll free hotline 080012300 (Vodafone lines only) or main lines 0302 550333, or MTN 0545006111/ 0545006112 are on display to the public for reporting irregularities relating to retail service delivery. In addition to the above, the Authority has created social media networks (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) to educate and engage consumers on use of the can.

Let’s build confidence and trust in each other, and desist from all petroleum-related dishonesty and fraud to help build a better Ghana. 

The writer is a Consumer Service Officer, National Petroleum Authority

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