Uptake of clean LPG hurt by policy failure

Columnists

Uptake of clean LPG hurt by policy failure

A Liquefied Petroleum Gas vendor. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

I came across a quote this week from someone I know who had Tweeted that the biggest issue with policy lies in its implementation. I read it as my team was stirring itself, once again, over the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) rules and what was, and what was not, a transition.

For, back in June, new rules were gazetted following a row of horrible home explosions borne of years of separation of oil marketers from their cylinders.

The now-departed system allowed consumers to swap any cylinder for any other brand’s cylinder, and retailers to stock every kind of cylinder, and created an open space for operators to refill other brands’ cylinders.

Without any link between the cylinder brand and the company that refilled it, when leaks happened on safety rules not being followed, court suits were brought against the brands emblazoned on the side of the cylinder.

But the brands reported that nearly 90 per cent of their cylinders were long lost into the system. The World Bank indicated a similar scale of cylinder loss, with data showing that three-quarters of LPG was being provided by illegal refillers.

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After a decade, many cylinders had not been properly safety checked for years to ensure their valves weren’t leaking, and oil marketers had stopped buying new cylinders only to lose them for other businesses to fill over and over. So the government moved.

For Kenya was in double jeopardy. The cessation of cylinder buying by the big brands was creating cylinder shortages and was a precursor to them ceasing supplying LPG altogether, leaving far more Kenyans still home cooking with wood and charcoal than elsewhere in Africa. And that home cooking is like a toxic dump.

Indeed, people may worry about 2 milligram of pesticide per kilo of vegetables instead of one milligram. But when we’re getting heated about health risks, every single meal cooked in a home with wood or charcoal is akin to the children in the room smoking more than 400 cigarettes. It’s a health blight that has made respiratory diseases into one of Kenya’s top killers.

So the mess of increasingly unsafe cylinders and shortening supply was continuing the killing of thousands of Kenyans a year from smoke and killing a few with gas explosions too.

And all that so a gang of entrepreneurs could gather up big brand cylinders and fill them with their own LPG bought in Jua Kali lorry loads: it’s not a scene that makes the illegal refillers into heroes.

Yet, since June, it has been illegal for retailers to do anything with a branded cylinder except return it to the brand, they have needed a letter from any brand to stock its cylinders, and they need to be applying for a licence.

They get six months to get the licence. But they don’t get six months to keep swapping cylinders for illegal refilling: it’s now definitively illegal, so illegal that the fine is Sh10m and five years in jail, which is very illegal.

Yet the information and implementation on this appears to have been so badly handled that we have come to actual headlines saying everyone is confused about this new law.

No one really knows why the regulator, the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority, has issued conflicting statements, swung from enforcing to not enforcing, indeed done everything lately to lead people to believe the June law is actually a January 2020 law. And, for most of us six months anyway flies quickly.

The smoke-filled cooking in homes is killing 23,000 Kenyans a year, but we wouldn’t have saved all 11,500 of a half-year’s deaths by sorting out our LPG market when the law instructed us to: not all families would yet have converted, and there will be a timelag on the brands now bringing in more cylinders once ownership is restored.

So the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority’s (EPRA) unbidden delay has probably only cost a few hundred lives, in fact.

But if another family dies in an explosion, another child, that will be rather less hidden, and just as hard to explain. For the law was there. That family should have been protected. The problem was in the implementation, for no reason that anyone knows.

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